Reason < Authority < Revelation

July 15, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 7:11 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology

Human reasoning is pretty much indispensable in our daily lives as human beings.  Not only are we allowed to engage in human reasoning, but we are actively encouraged to do it…. Unless it contradicts the teachings of our priesthood leaders.  Priesthood authority trumps human reason.

“We feel very sure that you understand well the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men however well-founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all kindness and in all sincerity that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning. You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can reorient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed word of God.”

-12 November 1947 Letter to Lowry Nelson, First Presidency, Archive.org

The teachings of our priesthood leaders are not based in or backed by human reason which means that asking “why?” is typically a fool’s errand for those both inside and outside the church.  The fact is that priesthood leaders typically know not why, save that the Lord hath commanded it.  We are strongly encouraged to accept what our priesthood leaders tell us…. Unless it contradicts personal revelation.  Personal revelation trumps priesthood authority.

A strong and healthy testimony is based in neither human reason nor in blind and unquestioning obedience to our priesthood leaders, but in our personal testimonies.  But the light by which we do follow our priesthood leaders is not that of human reason, but personal revelation.  When we do question our priesthood leaders, we do not ask them to give us a reason – because they very likely do not have one.  Thus, we have no need to question our priesthood leaders at all really.  Instead, we simply have to question God about our priesthood leaders.  He will tell us what to do even if He might not tell us the reason for it – remember, revelation is not based in human reason.  Thus, without such a foundation in personal revelation, we will never have the faith that is necessary for our priesthood leaders to trump human reason as it’s supposed to.

“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.

-Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, 135.

Personal revelation does trump priesthood authority, but is supposed to be kept personal rather than aired publicly.  It is a guide for me and me alone.  That is why we do not share our patriarchal blessings.  That is why young RM can’t receive a revelation telling a girl to marry him.  That is why running to the media with your personal revelations is a sham.  As far as any other person is concerned, my personal revelation is not God’s will for anybody except me.  Indeed, the only reason we would expect to share our personal revelation is if somebody asks “why do you believe that?”, but such a question belies a confidence that human reason really does trump priesthood authority and personal revelation.  If such a person really wanted to know if they too should believe it, they would seek revelation for themselves by consulting the teachings given to us by the prophets and going to the Lord in prayer.

“Should you receive a vision or revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it as close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make it as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for he cannot safely reveal himself to such persons”

- Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, 40–41.

Thus, there is a selection bias within the bloggernacle in that we will very rarely hear or read a faithful member contradicting a church doctrine that is officially backed by priesthood authority.  This is not to say that these people will always agree with the church.  To be sure, faithful members will always disagree with the church and – precisely because these members are faithful – their disagreements will largely be based in personal revelation rather than human reason.  Similarly, it is also because these members are faithful that they will keep these personal revelations to themselves.

Thus, since personal revelation does not belong in the bloggernacle, and since priesthood authority trumps human reason, we must conclude that within the bloggernacle, nothing trumps priesthood authority.  Accordingly, all the written material in the bloggernacle will either affirm or be neutral to the official positions of the church.  If this is not the case and we do see positions within the bloggernacle that conflict with the official positions of the church, there are only so many explanations for this:

1)      Somebody is using human reason to trump priesthood authority.

2)      Somebody is openly sharing their personal revelation.

3)      Somebody does not have a testimony of the church and its leaders.

Finally, we should be on the lookout for various code-words that are used to disguise these three kinds of red-flags.  For instance, some people will pretend that priesthood leaders and their promptings are somehow more “fallible” than human reason or the personal revelation that they openly share.  Many will insist that they are not reasoning against revelation, but merely “agitating” for revelation.  Others will pretend that airing such personal revelation is somehow more “authentic” than keeping it to yourself.  Still others will bear testimony of the “gospel” and of Jesus, but never of His duly ordained servants.

It’s simple really: seek personal revelation whether you should follow the priesthood leaders on some matter.  If the answer is “yes” then there will be no reason to contradict them in the bloggernacle.  If the answer is “no” then keep it to yourself and be on your way.  In neither case are faithful saints supposed to take to the bloggernacle or other media to make their case through reason or sharing their personal revelation.

84 Comments »

  1. 4) Authority and revelation lead to a wide variety of outcomes that arguably do or do not reflect “official positions” of the church.

    Comment by DCL — July 15, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

  2. As long as we don’t publicly contradict official doctrine, we can freely and legitimately say whatever we want.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 15, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

  3. Mormonism: Agree with the brethren or shut the hell up.

    Jeff, I am not sure why your posts need to be so long. :)

    I think your appeal to Brigham Young is completely appropriate. You channel his vision for Mormonism with skill.

    I am waiting for a flood that will kill everyone on the bloggernacle. How could God tolerate such evil?

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — July 15, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

  4. I find the use of your first quote intriguing. Do you really feel like the church leadership comes off on top in that exchange, given how the church now disavows so much of what its representatives wrote to Lowry Nelson? I find that exchange a low point in our prophetic history, one I reckon the authorities involved are now quite ashamed of as they look back on it from the other side. It seems more like an example of how prophets can be ignorant bigots too just like everyone else.

    Comment by Owen — July 15, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

  5. Thank God for people like Lowry Nielson who have the moral courage to follow their own reasoning and conscience.

    Comment by Seldom — July 15, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

  6. The fact is that priesthood leaders typically know not why, save that the Lord hath commanded it.

    To the extent this is true, there would seem to be a tension between mystery on the one hand and the unfolding Restoration on the other (cf. D&C 93:36).

    Comment by Peter LLC — July 16, 2014 @ 2:02 am

  7. “To be sure, faithful members will always disagree with the church and – precisely because these members are faithful – their disagreements will largely be based in personal revelation rather than human reason. Similarly, it is also because these members are faithful that they will keep these personal revelations to themselves.”

    I think, too, that there is another option in the mix which is using reason to contribute to conversations that respect the order of things.

    I have seen multiple instances of leaders at the highest levels actively seeking input from lay members (not just leaders) through various channels. I’ve been delighted by how candid they want input to be. When people trust the leaders, leaders trust them to give input.

    Comment by Michelle — July 16, 2014 @ 3:20 am

  8. There has been some thoughts in my mind as I have read these posts and comments. One is this idea some people have that if the priesthood authority is not absolutely perfect in every way then that is license to ignore or contradict them on anything you wish.

    I think Jeff G would agree that priesthood leaders are often dealing with partial information – they do not know the ‘why’. I think that leaves some gaps, which leaves some room for speculative thought. Thus, there is still room for reason within the gospel. Just that we should keep in mind its proper place and its limitations.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 16, 2014 @ 4:33 am

  9. Your argument is circular sophistry, your first quote is taken from from a letter exchange with Dr. Lowry Nelson an LDS sociologist in which the 1947 First Presidency asserts a position regarding blacks that could not have been more wrong! A position that has since been repudiated by the current church! Your reasoning seems to be priesthood authority is always to be followed right or wrong unless trumped by personal revelation. Why? Because priesthood authority said so (while being wrong btw!). Quite unimpressive Jeff G, you’ve produced much better work than this. This is an example of Dr.Nelson’s educated reasoning easily trumping the First Presidency’s position and advice probably because they were blinded by their own bias as SWK admitted to struggling with. Clearly it does matter that they were wrong or they would not have been later corrected.

    By asserting the rightness or wrongness of LDS leadership matters not is to assert wandering in the wilderness matters not. If this is true why ever exit the wilderness and so, what does matter in your view besides blind obedience?

    Comment by Howard — July 16, 2014 @ 7:39 am

  10. Jeff, thanks for posting this.

    It is so hard for people to understand that obedience to imperfection is a divine quality of agency. It requires humility and exercise of personal revelation.

    But I have seen so many miracles happen when people learn to respect God’s authority. Ultimately, when you have a testimony of the divine calling of Church leadership, your obedience is to God, deferring to His choice.

    Contrary to the opinions of most, it doesn’t require turning off your own judgment and agency, rather it recognizes more nuance than most are able to see.

    I do think that human reason can be an element of testimony, but it is certainly not the foundation of it.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 16, 2014 @ 8:05 am

  11. Great post. I agree substantially with your thoughts.

    Comment by Michael Towns — July 16, 2014 @ 9:04 am

  12. Based on the scriptures, Joseph Smith declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

    Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

    Comment by Howard — July 16, 2014 @ 9:10 am

  13. Jeff, I thought you might be interested in this excellent post. (Which I’m sharing in spite of the author quoting my own comment.)

    I think it does a wonderful job of putting substance/application to the ideas you are talking about here.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 16, 2014 @ 10:18 am

  14. SilverRain, I’ve also seen plenty of circumstances in which following leaders who are obviously wrong torpedoes well-intentioned efforts. Scouting is full of such examples of bishops and others who don’t understand the program ruining it for the youth because those who actually do understand the program defer to them, respecting authority exercised in ignorance rather than educating those in authority. You can spout all you like about how we’ll be blessed for our obedience, but even if Christ evens everything out in the end, lost opportunities in the here and now mean lost blessings in the here and now.

    Comment by Owen — July 16, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

  15. Owen, I’m pretty sure your definition of obedience and mine differ. Mine doesn’t require surrendering agency. It utilizes it.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 16, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

  16. Lots of comments.

    Chris, You definitely crack me up.

    Owen, My use of that quote was intentional. There are, after all, more than a few other quotes that pretty much say that same thing that I could have used instead. My aim was to use some of the passages which are popular among the less orthodox crowd and situate them within an entire orthodox framework. For example, the case with Brother Nelson is exactly what Brigham Young was talking about in the quote about personal revelation being private since it might not be the right time or person. (I’m willing to assume that Nelson had prayed about the issue rather than merely relying upon human reason.)

    Peter LLC, I’m a little hestitant to use that section to prove much of anything since its meaning – especially the verse you cite – is anything but clear. For example, I could (and have) gone on to cite verse 30 which says that all truth is independent within some sphere. I guess my point is that I wouldn’t mind at all if you unpacked the tension that you see a little more.

    Michelle, You make a fantastic point. I only focused on those points where we are contradicting or undermining priesthood for the sake of brevity, but I in no way meant to disallow what you suggest.

    Eric, I agree with you, even if I probably want to go a bit further. My main point is that priesthood authority has some amount of intrinsic legitimacy regardless of the reasons for or against what they say. This is not to say that they have absolute legitimacy, but they do have some which places it above human reason all other things being equal.

    Howard, You’re definitely showing your inability to look beyond your biases. I can summarize my post with the following equation:

    Human Reason < Priesthood Authority < Personal Revelation = Private

    Which part are you disagreeing with? I think I can provide quite a bit of authoritative quotes to back each of them up.

    SilverRain, I agree. I can think of a few reasons why priesthood authority is binding upon us even when it isnt imperfect.

    First, priesthood authority facilitate unity in serving as the standards to which the rest of us rally. If we are not one, then we are not the Lords, but every person and their cause is less than perfect. Thus, if we’re going to be one then we must choose which persons and their causes to rally to. Priesthood authority sets the followers apart from the followed in order to keep us from contending on the issues.

    Seoond, priesthood authority prevents the contamination of revelation by reason. Priesthood authority tells the groups we are involved in whose personal revelation is to be the purest without human reason standing in judgment of it. Of course, this perspective assume that human reason is a contaminant rather than a filter.

    Third, gospel truth is not just a simple matter of timeless and universal accuracy. Truth involves – at minimum – accuracy, propriety (ought it to be said?) and sincerity. Thus, Brother Nelson’s views certainly seem both accurate and sincere from our current perspective, but they lacked propriety. Thus, measuring the imperfections in our priesthood leaders is anything but a straightforward test in accuracy. (I can’t help but notice the parallels between this notion of propriety and political correctness.)

    Howard again, You are going to have to do more than simply cut and paste quotes which I view as strongly confirming what I’ve said. How exactly do those statements contradict what I’ve said?

    SilverRain again, thanks for that wonderful link. I love your perspective that the position and authority to which we are called are totally irrelevant to our being good and faithful servants.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  17. Jeff G,
    This is what you are saying.

    Reason < Authority

    In other words the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic is less than the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

    Comment by Howard — July 16, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

  18. Let’s do a thought experiment here. Let us suppose that there is a sister in the church, oh, let us call her Kell Katey. She is doing some things that are controversial, and after some back and forth, she is disciplined by her local authorities, and her name is removed from the rolls of the church. Now, it seems that there are two possibilities here:

    1. Her local authorities are correct and her behavior is such that she should be excommunicated.

    2. She is correct and the things she is doing are not of a nature as to require her excommunication.

    So, what are the consequences of our two possibilities? If 1 is correct, then the authorities acted as they should and things are working properly. Nothing to see here. Of course, the thing that has everybody in a tizzy is the possibility of 2, that the woman has been unjustly deprived of her salvation. The question is, is that correct?

    If the leaders who excommunicated her did so unjustly, I put it to you that it is but a temporary setback for her. If you truly believe in the church, then you believe that Jesus Christ is at the head of it. The men who excommunicated this woman did so under color of authority that is derived from Jesus. Presumably, Christ is aware of the true heart and mind of this woman, and he would know if she merits the discipline that has been visited on her. If she does not merit this discipline, I have to believe that in extremis the Lord would rule that the local church leaders exceeded their authority and restore any and all blessings, ordinances, etc that she had been deprived of by this action.

    “But why,” I hear you asking, “is this terrible injustice allowed to occur?” What seems to get lost in all the back and forth about how someones rights or salvation or agency has been compromised is that this person is not the only one with skin in the game. Has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps this situation is a test of the leaders involved? You know, people who also have agency and callings and who will judged on how well they fulfilled their stewardship roles?

    Joseph Smith asked in Liberty Jail why he was going through all the trials he endured. The Lord reminded him that he was not yet as Job. For all the people on both sides here, I think you need to realize that people, all people, have their own salvation to work out, and since we are all imperfect, situations arise that seem outrageous. Maybe they are just there as a test of our faith and testimonies.

    Comment by David — July 16, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

  19. Howard,

    I not that I think it, but that scriptures and prophets think it. You seem to think that follow logic to a sound conclusion is more important than following the priesthood leaders to zion. Jesus says of the church that if they are not one, they are not His. He never says if ye do not have up to date opinions of social justice and equality ye are not mine.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

  20. David,

    I don’t think I understand your thought experiment. Of course nobody in this world can deprive a person of their salvation. What priesthood leaders can do is give somebody the opportunity to humble themselves and re-approach the saints with less divisive and subversive behaviors.

    Other than that, I don’t think I understand your point.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

  21. Jeff G, we have different ideas of what “the church” means in that context. This is mine:

    Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

    Comment by Howard — July 16, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

  22. I’m talking about an actual church with actual people in it – people who will never find unity without some beacon to cling to. That one of the biggest purposes behind the saving ordinances is that we enter into a relationship with an actual congregation – a congregation which is structured and regulated by priesthood authority. The scriptures make this pretty clear.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

  23. You seem to think that follow logic to a sound conclusion is more important than following the priesthood leaders to zion.

    I think this strongly depends on whether or not priesthood leaders are actually headed toward zion. Was the 1947 First Presidency heading toward zion with their opposition to Dr. Nelson’s knowledgeable advice?

    The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one. Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God. And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers. But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.

    Who’s path contained more light and truth? The 1947 First Presidency or Dr. Nelson’s? Who’s path are we commanded to bring up our children in?

    Comment by Howard — July 16, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

  24. I’m talking about an actual church with actual people in it So that would be something more than whosoever repenteth and cometh unto Him?

    Comment by Howard — July 16, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

  25. The act of excommunication cuts someone off from the church. My point is that if some leaders were overzealous in their roles and excommunicated someone whose acts did not merit that level of punishment, even if the excommunicated person died without returning to the church, is it not plausible that the Savior himself, being the final judge in Zion, would overrule the actions of the local council and reinstate that person who was wrongly punished?

    I am not trying to minimize the significance of church disciplinary councils, but at the end of the day, there is a final Authority who will have the last word, and He has perfect knowledge and understanding and will always judge righteously.

    Comment by David — July 16, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

  26. David,

    I assume we all agree with that… Wait, do some people not think that?

    I would suggest, however, that the One Final Authority getting the last word isn’t quite so connected to Him having all knowledge and understanding as you think. Yes, He knows and understands all, but I see no reason to think His authority grounded in knowledge and understanding. We are supposed to be loyal to His person and His authority, not His reason. That sounds like the idea of a theologian rather than a prophet.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

  27. Howard,

    If you don’t think the church is the safest way to Zion then why don’t you choose whatever is the safest way? I don’t mean this in a dismissive way. I really would like to know why anybody in that position would ever covenant to sustain the church leaders?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

  28. Also worth mentioning is that I think too many people conflate priesthood authority within our church and that within a state-sponsored church. To be sure, I would have serious reservations with this model if willful and voluntary disassociation were not a relatively inexpensive possibility. In other words, I see our liberal democratic society as being a huge blessing from the Lord since it allows the freedom of religion within it. It is only within such a setting that priesthood authority can function to trump human reason without so easily becoming an instrument of human power. That is why I cannot accept anything like this model applied to the Catholic church more than 100 years ago.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

  29. I’m a little hestitant to use that section to prove much of anything since its meaning – especially the verse you cite – is anything but clear. […] I guess my point is that I wouldn’t mind at all if you unpacked the tension that you see a little more.

    My experience suggests that we do indeed esteem the naive faith of Adam as portrayed in Moses 5 as a model of obedience, which was canonized by Elder McConkie as the first law of heaven and cannot simply be brushed off.

    At the same time, we also appreciate the significance of James 1:5 as the promise that precipitated the Restoration, replacing darkness with light and knowledge to the world. Except, apparently, to the Lord’s duly authorized representatives most of the time.

    The tension arises when Adam’s naive faith is used to excuse persistent ignorance of the Lord’s mind and will, perhaps forgetting that an angel went on to explain things and Adam received the Holy Ghost and the gift of prophesy. However ambiguously formulated, the imagery of light vs. darkness, intelligence vs. stupors of thought, or Alma’s seed and the transition from faith to knowledge, suggest that the virtue of not knowing something is temporary and descriptive rather than eternal and normative.

    Comment by Peter LLC — July 16, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

  30. “My experience suggests that we do indeed esteem the naive faith of Adam as portrayed in Moses 5 as a model of obedience, which was canonized by Elder McConkie as the first law of heaven and cannot simply be brushed off.”

    I think that’s with good cause. After all, if Adam had decided to stop sacrificing (and we don’t know how long this had gone on before the angel’s appearance) for feeling ignorant of the Lord’s mind and will (which wouldn’t have been accurate – he knew the will, just not the mind), then whence would the knowledge have come?

    More importantly, is the knowledge meant to somehow change your obedience? Do you not need to be obedient anymore once you know why a commandment is given?

    The crucial decisions get made in the space between the commandment and the explanation. Why in the world would the prophets *not* focus on it?

    Comment by Fraggle — July 16, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

  31. Fraggle, you rock.

    Comment by Michael Towns — July 16, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

  32. whence would the knowledge have come?

    My point is that knowledge is forthcoming; Jeff G. is the one who contends that priesthood leaders act out of what seems to be perpetual ignorance: “the fact is that priesthood leaders typically know not why, save that the Lord hath commanded it.”

    is the knowledge meant to somehow change your obedience? Do you not need to be obedient anymore once you know why a commandment is given?

    Of course not; where did I suggest otherwise?

    Comment by Peter LLC — July 17, 2014 @ 12:40 am

  33. Probably in the same place where Jeff said the leaders act out of perpetual ignorance.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 4:34 am

  34. Except I actually included some words in quotation marks to guide the search.

    Fraggle appears to worry that Jeff G’s assessment that “We are strongly encouraged to accept what our priesthood leaders tell us” is under fire. Maybe it is, but not by me since I have maintained what experts in the field call “laser-like focus” on (quoted for the third time for those keeping track at home) “the fact is that priesthood leaders typically know not why, save that the Lord hath commanded it.”

    Comment by Peter LLC — July 17, 2014 @ 7:15 am

  35. Jeff G wrote: If you don’t think the church is the safest way to Zion then why don’t you choose whatever is the safest way?

    I do Jeff but you are advocating members follow their LDS priesthood leaders right or wrong even when it is irrational to do so and in spite of the fact that the First Presidency has been shown to be so totally wrong they are later repudiated by the their own church! And your only rationale is because they tell us to which in case you haven’t noticed is circular.

    My gggrandfather did as you advise and lost his life and the lives of two of his children widowing his wife and orphaning their 7 surviving children with the Willie Handcart Co. The fact is, being a priesthood holder or having priesthood authority qualifies no one to lead in the absense of revelation. If you want to claim divine direction you have to link it to revelation (not just smear it by conflation as you repeatedly attempt) which today is quite rare.

    In 2012 Elder Perry visited a southern CA ward and was asked “Have you ever seen an angel or the Savior?” He told a couple of stories the first was to recount Elder Richards’ report of a pre 1983 manifestation of President Woodruff and the second was the 1978 outpouring of the spirit regarding lifting the priesthood ban. Nothing more recent? He said that the heavens only open on rare occasions. In between these rare openings according to BRM they get their truth and light line upon line and precept upon precept (like everyone else). Oh, and never mind that the much of the developed secular world was right about blacks while the First Presidency insisted upon being wrong.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 7:22 am

  36. Peter, at least for me, it’s that narrow focus that seems narrow-minded. Better understanding generally comes from context.

    Jeff seems to me to be making a very specific point. When you try to make it into a general one, your argument looks rather ludicrous.

    He’s saying, to me, that basing our testimonies on a leader’s ability to rationally support what they are asking us to do is pointless. Rather, we should be basing our testimonies on the guidance we receive in personal revelation.

    IOW, we should be taking our questions to the Lord and keeping our hearts open to being taught by the Spirit, not merely by secular wisdom. There’s nothing “perpetual” about that ignorance. Jeff is talking about a very narrow point in time: that point between being told to do something and doing it.

    IOW, wisdom comes after faith. Not, typically, before it.

    Does that help?

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 7:36 am

  37. By way of comparison:

    Jeff’s model:
    Discover someone claiming to be a prophet –> Pray to know if they are truly called of God –> Gain testimony that they are –> Hear words of prophets –> Follow them –> Pray/seek/ponder for understanding

    Vs.

    Discover someone claiming to be a prophet –> (Pray to know if they are truly called of God –> Gain testimony that they are –>) Hear words of prophets –> Test words against current personal practices –> Follow or not based on whether or not it aligns with what you are currently doing

    Those of us who use the first model strongly suspect that those who use the second model haven’t really completely gone through the part in the parenthesis. For us, not having that testimony baffles us as to why anyone would even pretend to be following the prophets. They are actually following their own wisdom, and have no real space in their lives for the prophetic model.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 7:45 am

  38. There’s another path that is supported by the church. Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.

    That can look like this:
    Discover someone claiming to be a prophet –> Pray to know if they are truly called of God –> Gain testimony that they are –> Hear words of prophets –> study it out in your mind and pray to know if their words apply to you or if they are just opinion or if they qualify you as one of Elder Oak’s exceptions.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 7:57 am

  39. Here’s another way to look at it. The mortal church, the one with “actual people” as Jeff likes to say requires leadership and organization in order to function. But mortal leadership even with the priesthood is flawed, it is fallible and subject to unrighteous dominion even though adoring Pollyanna TBMs often act as if their LDS leaders are infallible celebrities. The check and balance here is studying it out and asking. When we fail to do this we are increasing the chances that we will be following blind guides such as the 1947-49 First Presidency position on blacks.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 8:11 am

  40. Howard,

    I think much of what Jeff’s recent posts address is what do people do if they disagree or feel they are an exception? If they start to publicly disagree, what is it based on, and what does this public disagreement mean? Thus, I think your 38 stops short. I think if you were to take your 38 a few steps further, you would likely find more common ground here.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 17, 2014 @ 9:19 am

  41. “adoring Pollyanna TBMs”

    Why, Howard! I’m pretty sure that’s conduct unbecoming of a Saint. Maybe you should take your ball and go home again.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 9:23 am

  42. Pray/seek/ponder for understanding IS “study it out in your mind and pray to know if their words apply to you or if they are just opinion or if they qualify you as one of Elder Oak’s exceptions.”

    It’s about what you do in the meantime and, as Eric Nielson points out, how you deal with it afterwards.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 9:24 am

  43. Eric,
    I think discussion generally precedes open disagreement and disagreement seems to emerge as a product of debate. This is healthy for any mortal organization, it helps prevent nude emperors. Are you arguing there should not have been (public or otherwise) discussion, debate and disagreement with the 1947-49 First Presidency’s position on blacks? If so do you believe OD2 or it’s equivalent would have arrived in 1978 anyway?

    SR,
    You haven’t met any adoring Pollyanna TBMs?

    Well, pray/seek/ponder for understanding may or may not include studying it out in one’s mind which is an analytical process but if that’s what you meant, great. I tend to receive spiritual conformation in advance of following but your milage may vary.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  44. pon·der—verb
    think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.

    synonyms: think about, contemplate, consider, review, reflect on, mull over, meditate on, muse on, deliberate about, cogitate on, dwell on, brood on, ruminate on, chew over, puzzle over, turn over in one’s mind, overthink

    I have sometimes followed first, understood second; sometimes understood then followed. It’s the propensity of many to declare that only the second case is valid that Jeff is speaking to.

    And no, I’ve not met anyone of that description, and I’ve lived in the Mormon Corridor for a good part of my life. But whether or not there are people in the world who meet that description, describing it that way is definitely derogatory. It’s pitiable: you try to dish out ad hominems, but you certainly can’t take it when people find the many holes in your ideas.

    You might want to try another tactic than hashing over 1978. You’ve already lost that point, and bringing it up ad nauseum isn’t helping you.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  45. Howard:

    “Discover someone claiming to be a prophet –> Pray to know if they are truly called of God –> Gain testimony that they are –> Hear words of prophets –> study it out in your mind and pray to know if their words apply to you or if they are just opinion or if they qualify you as one of Elder Oak’s exceptions.”

    There are three answers we typically get in response to prayers — yes, no, and withheld answer. Therefore, to your question as to whether the words apply to you, you can receive ‘yes they do,’ ‘no they don’t,’ or not receive an answer.

    I think we are in agreement that if the answer is ‘yes, they apply’ then you do it. Where we diverge is in either of the other two categories. If the answer is ‘no, it does not apply’ then I would state that you don’t do it, but you also don’t rush out to post on Facebook about how you are not doing it. In fact, following with Romans 14, I would say that you have a moral obligation to keep your no answer (and no behavior) to yourself so that no one else knows about it.

    The other divergence is in the time when no answer is forthcoming. I would say that when no answer is given, you are obliged to follow your Priesthood leader regardless of what your mortal intellect may tell you. The Lord will protect you from any substantial deviations, and minor deviations we are expected to demonstrate our obedience regardless of whether we disagree.

    Our intellect, then, becomes almost a tool for effectuating our obedience rather than a check on our obedience. It helps us to be more powerful in following the Lord, but we err when we think that our intellect in any way supplants the necessity of following His servants.

    Comment by Jonathan Cavender — July 17, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  46. an·a·lyt·i·cal – adjective
    relating to or using analysis or logical reasoning.

    a·nal·y·sis – noun
    detailed examination of the elements or structure of something

    proc·ess – verb
    a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

    So this is a different and more specific process than pondering or thinking. For example:

    think – verb
    1. have a particular opinion, belief, or idea about someone or something.
    2. direct one’s mind toward someone or something; use one’s mind actively to form connected ideas

    day·dream – noun
    a series of pleasant thoughts that distract

    So pray/seek/ponder for understanding may or may not include studying it out in one’s mind which is an analytical process

    Jonathan Cavender,
    It can be parsed to much greater detail than you are allowing by asking series of y/n questions. This is the mistake I see and read about many members making. They ask a blanket question “Is the church true” and they get what they perceive to be a spiritual feeling that they take for a blanket “yes” when it really means something more like “you’re heading in the right direction, come follow me” Is the church true? It’s an ignorant question, the gospel is true the church is both true, false and everything in between but without parsing you don’t know that.

    The Lord will protect you from any substantial deviations, and minor deviations we are expected to demonstrate our obedience regardless of whether we disagree. Great! But, words are cheap, so how would my gggreat grandfather’s nuclear family have gone about collecting on this insurance policy following his death? His wife lived out her live without him, raised 7 kids and never remarried.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

  47. Peter,

    You bring up a good point which I have wanted to address in other posts, but cut it out for the sake of brevity. (Yes, my posts could be much longer!)

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that in the end – as opposed to how things are temporarily – there will be no difference between true reason and true authority, so we really have no reason to poo-poo reason like I’m trying to do. Is that about right?

    Even though I think this perspective is true, I dsiagree with it (have strong reservations would be a better way of putting it) for 3 reasons:

    1) Such a belief does nothing to solve the problems which we confront in this life, a life in which priesthood authority and human reason definitely do contradict each other at times.

    2) It gives the illusion that following reason is an equally legitimate alternative to following our priesthood leaders. In other words, it acts as a distracting pretext for disobedience.

    3) It gives the false impression that priesthood authority is legitimate only to the extent that good reasons ultimately ground it. In other words, it allows people to see priesthood authority as being a merely instrumental or second-hand source of legitimacy.

    In other words, yes, in the end I do believe that there will be no contradiction between true authority and true reason… but this changes absolutely nothing in the here and now.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

  48. Howard,

    I fully acknowledge that this perspective is probably circular (although I’m not sure that it is in the way you suggest)… but you fail to see that your perspective is just as circular. That is the point I have always maintained is that both perspective have their own internal consistency even if they is no consistency between them.. Thus, a Kierkegaardian choice of sorts must be made between the two perspectives.

    The criticism that I keep aiming at you in the comments is that you actively resist confronting this choice by assuming that reason just is the standard against which authority is measured rather than the other way around.

    You assume that a change in policy equals the falsification of the past policy because you assume that true policies and doctrines cannot be changed by anybody. This is an assumption. Your assumption that circular perspectives cannot be true prevents you from both acknowledging the validity of mine as seeing the circularity in yours. Following Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, you assume that true authority is both constrained and grounded by true information rather than the other way around. Again, this is an assumption.

    My aim has been to get you to question or at least become self-conscious of these assumptions by providing alternatives to them.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

  49. SilverRain and Fraggle – Nicely put!

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

  50. Congratulations, Howard. You have once again succeeded in making so little sense, I can’t find one reasonable thread to follow.

    You crack me up.

    Anyone who tries to argue that daydream is the same thing as pondering just to try to make a rhetorical point is indubitably delusional. I used the phrase. I get to choose what definitions are applicable.

    The following discussion has more logic than your response:
    “The sky is blue.”
    “You are wrong. The sky is not green.”
    “I didn’t say that.”
    “Blue=depressed. Depressed=sad. Sad=negative emotion. A negative emotion=jealousy. Jealousy=green. Therefore you said the sky is green.”

    At least there weren’t any leaps in the rationale of that one. ROTFL!

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

  51. Jeff G wrote…you assume that true policies and doctrines cannot be changed by anybody. No, this is not my assumption or my belief.

    Jeff, please explain how all of these can be true: Blacks can hold the priesthood, blacks cannot hold the priesthood, blacks can hold the priesthood, the prophet can never lead us astray.

    SilverRain,
    I’m glad you found it funny but you misunderstood. You explained pondering as thinking about (something) carefully and I’ve been pointing out that studying it out in your mind is a more analytical process, something more specific than generic thinking for example daydreaming is also thinking. The point being there is an important analytical distinction between studying it out in your mind and pondering.

    stud·y – noun
    the devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge, a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

  52. 1. By what power other than human reason does one understand the statements of Priesthood authority?

    You seem to be particular evidence that understanding Priesthood authority requires a lot of (human) reasoning.

    2. Given that human reason is required to understand statements by authority and that those statements are often contradictory or open to interpretation, I don’t see how one can understand authority other than through the use of reason.

    Its like you are telling people to pray in the corner of a round room – I can’t see how one could change any decision based on what you said.

    Comment by Martin James — July 17, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  53. Howard,

    I’ve already explained it in so many posts. So many.

    It’s not hard to see the tension that you see between those propositions, but it is quite a bit more difficult to see the assumptions which connect them. If you want to see these assumptions I challenge you to formalize the argument in terms of premises and conclusions. This should force you to articulate some of the assumptions at play.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

  54. Jeff G,
    By your own admission (47) you are verbose, being clear and concise upfront are not exactly you forte I suspect because you are still developing your apology. Sending me back through your tomes is a dodge aimed at playing to the audience. If you actually have an answer please post it clearly succinctly here.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

  55. Howard, when you reduce yourself to quibbling over exact definitions, you prove that you have no other real point. I know what I meant, you know what I meant, and you’re being deliberately obtuse in order to try to save face.

    I didn’t misunderstand at all. I just think your arguments have no merit, and I find it funny that you are trying so hard with so little substance. I didn’t “explain” pondering at all. I merely demonstrated that my intended meaning is a legitimate part of the definition.

    I try really hard not to make personal judgments when engaging in discussion with you, but I’m inevitably left with 1) you’re deliberately attempting to be deceptive/obtuse or 2) you’re an idiot.

    Martin: I think part of the point is that human reason is NOT required to understand statements by authority. There are other tools of understanding. In fact, when it comes to bringing our will in alignment with God, human reason is often more of a barrier to understanding than a helpful tool.

    Yes, Jeff…if you have a way to explain how you didn’t say the sky is green, please do. I can’t be bothered to read all the myriad and convoluted reasoning you’ve posted before. ;)

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

  56. Howard:

    “Jeff, please explain how all of these can be true: Blacks can hold the priesthood, blacks cannot hold the priesthood, blacks can hold the priesthood, the prophet can never lead us astray.”

    Non-Hebrews can hold the Priesthood (Balaam, for example). Non-Hebrews cannot hold the Priesthood. Non-Hebrews can hold the Priesthood. The Prophet can never lead us astray.

    Would an Israelite in the days of Samuel have been justified in speaking out in favor of the ordination of the Gentiles? Would an early Christian have been justified condemning Moses when the Gospel was extended to the Gentiles? Or, is it possible, that despite the faulty understanding that the Prophets in both cases might have understood what they were doing?

    Comment by Jonathan Cavender — July 17, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

  57. Jonathan Cavender,
    You haven’t answered the question you’ve just re asked it in an earlier time.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

  58. “You haven’t answered the question you’ve just re asked it in an earlier time.”

    Howard, if you don’t see the relevance, then you must be a pure crank.

    Comment by Michael Towns — July 17, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

  59. Howard,

    Once again, I invite you to formalize the inconsistency you see between those statements. I think it will really help us move forward.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

  60. So you don’t have an answer?

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

  61. Again, I’ve answered these questions in almost every thread. So rather than asking you to rehearse the same conversation all over again, I’m trying to set up a new approach. So again, I ask you to set up this approach by formalizing the contradiction that you see in 51 so that we can articulate and analyze the assumptions that are at play.

    I know you won’t accept the arguments and assumptions as I put them forward, so I’m asking you to put your forward so we can go from there.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

  62. Well here is what I struggle with, I’m constrained by reason so the only way I can see that all of those things could be true is some God’s eye view we don’t understand. However the evidence strongly suggests that LDS prophets during during the ban weren’t in conversation with God about the ban and that conclusion gains a lot of weight when we consider the church doesn’t know how it came about, reversed it upon revelation and repudiated the folklore words those prophets spoke in explanation for the ban including the 1949 First Presidency signed statement. So my reasoned conclusion is that the church actually was led astray and all of those things cannot be true. But I know you like to logically argue against reason, in impossible task in my view, but perhaps can explain it from your unconstrained view.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

  63. Howard,

    What is your take on Gregory Prince’s account of David O. McKay seeking revelation on lifting the ban and receiving the answer “not yet; stop asking” as detailed in his biography?

    Your constant refrain seems to be that the Brethren *never* sought revelation on the subject. That is a false narrative.

    Comment by Michael Towns — July 17, 2014 @ 6:18 pm

  64. So what are all the premises that are needed to reach that conclusion? In other words, what are the inferences that connect all these facts and statements to your conclusion?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 6:21 pm

  65. Well Michael I’m not a historian nor have I read Gregory Prince’s account but I’m familiar with the basic story and it’s not the only version of that situation as I recall another version simply says there was no answer. But more importantly from what I’ve read it’s undeniable that politics among the brethren played a part in timing. I don’t recall the specifics but I remember the quorums were deliberately called at times when certain strongly opposed would be absent.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

  66. Jeff, I’m asking you how you string it together and you’re being very evasive.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 6:32 pm

  67. I don’t see any contradiction and I know that you’re going to disagree with any attempt of mine at stringing it together. Evasive indeed!

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

  68. Howard (43)

    People can of course discuss and debate whatever they choose, they should simply be aware of what they are basing their opinions on, and where their priorities and loyalties are.

    And yes, I think OD2 or its equivalent was only a matter of time. From my understanding it was always a matter of when. Might the timing have been affected by agitation? That would be pure speculation – I of course have no idea.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 17, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

  69. Thanks for finally clearing that up Jeff!

    Thanks for your response Eric.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 7:01 pm

  70. Howard,

    I’m not trying to evade the question. To the contrary, I’m trying to get you to set up the question in such a way that I can answer it in your own terms. I’m trying to do this because all attempts at answering the question by setting the issue up in my terms have failed.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

  71. Sure, I know Jeff.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

  72. One of the interesting things about NDBF Gary is that he actually presents a pretty good case that the official position of the LDS church is anti-evolution (in the sense that Adam was the first man, and death literally came into the world with the Fall).

    But then a couple commenters have mentioned on that site that this constitutes a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the whole Mormon project. Yes, it seems that Mormonism is officially anti-evolution (so they say), but so much the worse for Mormonism.

    A strong and healthy testimony is based in neither human reason nor in blind and unquestioning obedience to our priesthood leaders, but in our personal testimonies. But the light by which we do follow our priesthood leaders is not that of human reason, but personal revelation.

    This series of posts *almost* serves the same reductio ad absurdum type purpose for me as NDBF Gary does for some readers of his blog. I study the psychology of religion on the doctoral level – and to be honest one of the takeaways from my studies is how downright easy it is to get people to follow a leader based on leveraging simple social psychological tools. If I were more unscrupulous I could get followers to follow me AND feel subjective internal anything-I-want. *Especially* by convincing them that revelation from God (through me of course) trumps whatever personal revelation they get or whatever their faulty “reasoning” might say. Because it’s so easy to manipulate people’s emotions and feelings, and “personal revelation” in a Mormon context seems to hinge on emotion primarily, the whole idea that the LDS church itself is so qualitatively different than any other similarly-structured authoritarian hierarchy seems to strain credulity (and, maybe ironically, causes me an intense negative emotional reaction as well).

    Comment by Syphax — July 18, 2014 @ 6:52 am

  73. I didn’t mean to say “trumps whatever personal revelation they get” – I realize that’s not what you said in your post.

    Comment by Syphax — July 18, 2014 @ 6:56 am

  74. Following Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, you assume that true authority is both constrained and grounded by true information rather than the other way around. Again, this is an assumption.

    But isn’t this truly a Mormon way to look at things? All through my upbringing in Mormonism I was taught that God *became* God, or that God retains his Godhood, through obedience to natural Laws of the Universe. If God disobeyed the Laws, he would cease to be God.

    So it’s only natural for a Mormon to see authority as grounded by some sort of universal, static law. That’s how God himself got and retains his authority.

    Comment by Syphax — July 18, 2014 @ 7:18 am

  75. In fact, I’ll make an attempt to formalize this problem in the spirit of Aquinas’ First Way.

    (if it’s not super obvious why this has bearing on your post, I can try to explain that if you want)

    1. On Mormonism, God’s power/authority, and by extension the power/authority of all church leaders, comes from adherence to a higher, natural law. [from Mormon doctrine]
    2. Our knowledge of whether a being’s actions or views are in line with this higher, natural law, comes from revelation from a source who knows this higher, natural law. [from Jeff’s post]
    3. God became God, then, by learning by revelation from a source that achieved Godhood before Him. [from 1 and 2]
    4. Therefore, no member of the chain of gods has knowledge of this higher, natural law, except inasmuch as it was revealed to them.
    5. But, this chain cannot regress into the past indefinitely.
    6. Therefore, Mormon doctrine is false.

    If all knowledge of the higher, natural law comes from revelation from some previous being, then this cannot go back into infinity. No member of the chain of gods *possesses* knowledge of higher, natural law on their own. It would be like saying a moving train of boxcars can stretch on into infinity – each one being pulled from the last one.

    Now you could avoid this problem by saying that at some point back in the chain of gods, there was a god who learned higher, natural law through some other method – say, trial and error.

    But then you’d be admitting that there’s a way of learning how to be good without obeying some previous authority – something you seem to be denying in your post.

    Comment by Syphax — July 18, 2014 @ 7:35 am

  76. Syphax (cool name btw),

    If only everybody could disagree with others in the clam and respectful way that you do. I truly admire your gift.

    “the whole idea that the LDS church itself is so qualitatively different than any other similarly-structured authoritarian hierarchy seems to strain credulity (and, maybe ironically, causes me an intense negative emotional reaction as well).”

    We should be careful here. I’m not saying that the church is all that different from a non-believer’s liberal democratic perspective. Indeed, I’ve strongly argued that they are morally obligated to resist and actively attack any such organization. But the people I’m addressing are not non-believers. I do not argue that the church is qualitatively different from other organizations, for it is only personal revelation which can confirm that position.

    Put differently, if one believes that God (in some sense) leads this church in a way that He does not lead others, then this changes everything. Human reason and other such checks and balances – things which we truly value in all other organizations – are not only constraining the power of men, but the power of God. Where in other organization authority serves contaminate truth while reason serves to purify it, within an organization which is led by God, it is the other way around: reason is the contaminant and authority is the safe haven for purity.

    “God retains his Godhood, through obedience to natural Laws of the Universe.”

    This was a strong article of faith for me on my way out of the church, which is why I attack it so incessantly. Yes, there are eternal laws which God cannot transgress, but I think any equivalence between such eternal laws and the universal models developed within academia (the pinnacles of human reason) seems like little more than a faith claim. Maybe there are universal and static laws which ground authority (and this is a huge maybe), but unless we know what they are then we are still left with nothing by which we might constrain or ground authority. Additionally, I can’t help but wonder what these natural laws are that are supposed to constrain authority? Are they physical or social? Where does their normativity come from? Why must they follow the model of Greek philosophy in being static?

    In other words, I am pretty suspicious of your P1, I definitely did not argue for P2 and I would suggest that Mormon doctrine clearly rejects P5.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

  77. I’m interested in the Punic Wars, and Syphax was a minor character at the time, so I borrowed the name.

    Also, I’m being calm and respectful? I guess you’re right, though I don’t get accused of that very often. I wish I could say that this was a dispassionate process for me, but the issue of which church is true is very, very much a big deal for me.

    Maybe part of the reason I’m coming across as calm and respectful is that I generally agree with you. I do think Mormonism entails the relationship with authority that you have been describing in these posts. It does seem that Mormonism, for better or worse, requires a sort of subjugation of our own reason and wills to the Almighty and his servants. The question in my mind is whether a Mormon is actually justified in this position given the metaphysics/cosmology/anthropology also taught by Mormonism.

    Yes, there are eternal laws which God cannot transgress, but I think any equivalence between such eternal laws and the universal models developed within academia (the pinnacles of human reason) seems like little more than a faith claim.

    Well to use an orthogonal example, the Doctrine and Covenants claims that “all spirit is matter” but it is “finer or more pure” so we can’t see it. It seems like there might be a weird kind of equivocation going on – if spirit matter doesn’t have the properties that we understand matter to have, then in what sense is it matter? Why even use the term “matter” if it’s so different?

    I feel the same way about the idea of “eternal laws which God cannot transgress” but that the laws are nothing like the laws that we have on Earth or the laws that they talk about in academia. So what are they? Why even call them laws or refer to them at all?

    Furthermore I’m not sure why you take a swipe at “academia” broadly here – certainly someone has pointed out that you’re appealing to human reason to write these posts to begin with? And you’re using tools developed in academic minds (grammar, rhetoric, etc.) to make your points? Undercutting the whole academic enterprise is undercutting everything you’ve said.

    Maybe there are universal and static laws which ground authority (and this is a huge maybe), but unless we know what they are then we are still left with nothing by which we might constrain or ground authority. Additionally, I can’t help but wonder what these natural laws are that are supposed to constrain authority? Are they physical or social? Where does their normativity come from?

    Well the original “cease to be God” quote was from Alma 42, and a discussion of justice and mercy. In the context of that discussion, it would seem that Alma is trying to say that justice is an example of one of these eternal laws. If God robbed justice by only having mercy, then somehow the law of justice would be violated. The whole reason Jesus had to suffer for our sins was – somehow – that this suffering was required for us to be forgiven of our sins. Without Jesus suffering, somehow the law of justice would be violated.

    While this concept of justice is rather broad and not very well defined, it doesn’t seem so “out there” as to say that eternal laws are nothing like anything we understand as laws. It seems like humans have some kind of an understanding of what justice is and how it operates. If we suddenly let all the pedophiles in prisons free, we would all sense that justice has been violated in some way.

    Now maybe Alma was just saying “cease to be God” in some kind of didactic sense, but I think the general message is that God was constrained by some kind of law of justice (whether the possibility of God ceasing to be God is realistic or not).

    Why must they follow the model of Greek philosophy in being static?

    If they are not static, then they would in some sense change. That change would either be random, in which case no one could know them or be sure that we are following them (if the laws have changed since God learned to be God, how do we know he’s still right about them?) OR the laws could change according to some set rules, in which case there are static higher-order rules in play.

    I would suggest that Mormon doctrine clearly rejects P5

    P5 follows from the previous two premises. If no member of the chain possesses knowledge of the laws by their nature, but only as it was passed to them, it becomes a mystery how that knowledge ever entered the chain to begin with. It’s like the old sci-fi trope where a guy travels back in time and gives himself a pocket-watch, and his younger self keeps the pocket-watch until he travels back in time and gives it to himself. We can explain how Young Guy got the watch (Old Guy gave it to him) and we can explain how Old Guy came to be in possession of it (he’s kept it since it was given to him) but who manufactured the watch? How can it even exist? Or similarly, if someone gave you a hand-illuminated manuscript, and when you ask him when it was written, the response is: “it was never written – it’s been passed on and copied for eternity past.” Huh?

    Similarly, it is a mystery how the chain of Gods came to be in possession of this knowledge and how they can even be sure that it is really true. That’s why P5 follows from the previous premises.

    Comment by Syphax — July 18, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

  78. And in regards to the laws themselves – yes, they could be dynamic in the sense of “do unto others as you want them to do to you” is dynamic (because each situation requires a reinterpreting of the law) but the Golden Rule itself is static.

    Additionally, if the laws include things like 2+2=4 or the Law of Noncontradiction, I’m not sure what it would even mean or look like for God to violate those laws. I don’t see how those laws could possibly be changed or normed by referencing social interactions.

    Comment by Syphax — July 18, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

  79. Put differently, if one believes that God (in some sense) leads this church in a way that He does not lead others, then this changes everything. Human reason and other such checks and balances – things which we truly value in all other organizations – are not only constraining the power of men, but the power of God. Where in other organization authority serves contaminate truth while reason serves to purify it, within an organization which is led by God, it is the other way around: reason is the contaminant and authority is the safe haven for purity.

    Nicely put.

    Comment by JimS — July 19, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

  80. Alright, Sorry about the delay.

    “It does seem that Mormonism, for better or worse, requires a sort of subjugation of our own reason and wills to the Almighty and his servants. The question in my mind is whether a Mormon is actually justified in this position given the metaphysics/cosmology/anthropology also taught by Mormonism.”

    It probably comes as no surprise that I think that is a fantastic objection if only because it so accurately represents the mindset (my old mindset) that I am specifically arguing against. No doubt I am projecting, but I too used to take the Mormon metaphysics – as I understood it – to entail a strong endorsement of a particular kind of intellectualism (scientism/naturalism).

    My position now, however, constitutes a very strong rejection of any such metaphysical foundationalism since such a view is based more in Greek philosophy (which provided the foundation for natural philosophy which would later be called “science”) than in prophetic religion. It’s not that I reject science or that particular Mormon metaphysics. It’s just that I don’t think such ideas have the final word when it comes to the rules which govern proper belief.

    The “rules which govern proper belief” are the subject matter than I have been talking about in all of my posts. I’m making no attempts at describing reality as it actually and independently is or any other such thing. Instead, I trying to isolate the rules which govern proper belief within the two traditions (Mormonism and modernism) in order to show the contradictions with exist between the two, regardless of the metaphysics at play. Thus, I’m not saying that the laws of logic do not exist or can be broken as if they were things of sorts that exist apart from the beings that practice and enforce them. Instead, I construe the laws of logic as rules of proper belief which (just like any other moral rule) sometimes come in conflict with other rules.

    That is the reason for my perceived swipe at academia. I don’t reject their search for truth and reason, but I do reject their claims to Truth or Reason (with capital letters). Such things and people can be quite useful tools when put to and constrained by the proper purposes, but it is the gospel rather than modernity that ought to define these proper purposes.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

  81. What is your word for the what we use to have a belief and to process language?

    Its your metaphysics of personhood, as opposed to reason, that I’m getting it.

    How do you know your understanding of personhood is really free of modern conceptions? And if they are, how would you convey that to another. What is an intelligence or soul for example. How do you know for sure you’ve purged those of modern notions in your purge of reason?

    Comment by Martin James — July 21, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

  82. Martin,

    I reject the idea that we have to purify our thoughts of all forms of modernity. Rather, I merely say that we allow the gospel to constrain and contradict modernity rather than the other way around. Again, I’m actually pro-reason, but anti-Reason (with a capital “R”).

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

  83. If only there were a forum where members of the church could share their reasoning and personal revelation with others who wanted to be benefited by it while gently and diplomatically warning away others who are confused by/offended by/afraid of it.

    Comment by Bill B. — August 9, 2014 @ 9:37 am

  84. “Discover someone claiming to be a prophet –> Pray to know if they are truly called of God –> Gain testimony that they are –> Hear words of prophets –> study it out in your mind and pray to know if their words apply to you or if they are just opinion or if they qualify you as one of Elder Oak’s exceptions.”

    It seems to me like Howard’s model not only makes a bit more sense, but is also supported by many statements by the Brethren–Brigham Young included. The only real exception is if they were to actually offer an unambiguous revelation for the church–then I could see switching to Jeff’s model. In these cases an apostle is acting in his fullest capacity as prophet, seer, and revelator (these words imply that they are going beyond themselves and are receiving it from an outside source). Otherwise, their counsel and doctrine remains a mystery as to whether it is theirs or the Lord’s. To be fair, I still consider their counsel to be taken very seriously, and have only found objections here and there.

    My in-laws believe that polygamy will return in the church. They are a bit older and they have said that they will readily practice it if asked to by Salt Lake. It sounds like most on this board would also do likewise (following Jeff/Silverchair’s model). You can do that, but I would be following Howard’s model in this case BEFORE I go and try to have another lady shack up with me and my wife.

    Jeff’s philosophy also kind of reminds me of the “once saved, always saved” brand of Christians. Except in this case it’s “once it’s confirmed to you that these men are truly ordained in their calling from God, then everything that comes from them ought to be treated as coming from God.” Accepting the idea that “this man truly is an apostle of the Lord, but he may not be receiving revelations in a given period of time” prompts the question from Jeff: “why anybody in that position would ever covenant to sustain the church leaders?”

    The two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can sustain someone as a general authority, and not be forced to believe/teach his doctrine that evolution is a heresy. I accept that the person hasn’t received a revelation for that particular area, even if he is unaware of it. I accept that he still has priesthood keys and is the one designated to offer revelation for the ENTIRE church when Lord sees fit to have him act in that capacity. I can accept that person as an inspired leader, being led by the Spirit, and still get things out of Conference. It’s really not that difficult of a concept.

    “A prophet is only a prophet when acting as such.” -JS

    Comment by Pierce — September 26, 2014 @ 11:26 am

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