There is no contradiction here

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

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

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

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

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

The Dangers and Blessings of Reason and Revelation

January 17, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 1:58 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology

Which is worse, false revelations being accepted as true or true revelations being rejected as false?  This question, I think, gets very close to the heart of the debate between reason and authority.  This issue can be framed historically in terms of the Enlightenment battle between revelation to authority figures and reasons and laws which are accessible to and binding upon everybody.

The Mormon tradition believes the Catholic Church to have become illegitimate (if not in terms of revelation, then definitely in terms of authority) by the time of the Enlightenment.  Thus, we praise the Protestant reformers and other secular thinkers that cast away the shadows of the “Dark Ages” (so called) for their resistance to that apostate church.

The problem, however, is that the metaphors, values and concepts that these Enlightenment thinkers created in order to subvert and overthrow the authority of the Catholic Church were weapons that were meant to subvert any and all appeals to revelation to authority figures without any regard for the legitimacy of these claims.  Indeed, the whole point of the Enlightenment was that such appeals to revelation given to authority are intrinsically illegitimate.

This forces a confrontation of sorts between Mormonism and reason.  After all, while the Mormon tradition dismisses the illegitimate authority of the Catholic Church, it also stands apart from Protestantism in not wanting a Reformation in which authority is universalized/dissolved, but in wanting a Restoration of legitimate claims to revelation from authority figures.  This, however, is exactly what Enlightenment reason was created in opposition to.  We cannot fully embrace both traditions at the same time.

The question then becomes, in what way can we prevent the abuses of illegitimate authority without also closing the door on legitimate authority that we simply happen to not like?  The Enlightenment answer – universal reason – seems to have done a decent job in preventing the former, but has unfortunately closed the door on the latter as well.  We see various versions of this same Enlightenment answer within the bloggernacle in which we attempt to bind priesthood leaders to strict rules that universally apply world-wide and without exception, hold the book of scripture to the standards of the book of nature, judge living prophets by those of the past or future, etc.

These attempts at blocking claims to revelation from authority figures are motivated by the fear that false revelation might be accepted as true.  This seems like a perfectly reasonable fear.  From the other side of these same debates we find claims motivated by the fear that true revelation might be rejected as false.  This too seems like a perfectly reasonable fear.  The fact is that both dangers are very real and always present with the Mormon tradition, and it’s a little disingenuous to pretend that only one or the other is where the “real” danger lies.

Perhaps, it might be worth considering the possibility that universal reason is not the only protection we have, or must inevitably have against false revelation and abuses of authority.

5 Reasons for Following the Prophets

August 23, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 4:11 pm   Category: Apologetics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Truth

In this post I would like to briefly outline 5 reasons for why we should believe our authorized priesthood leaders over our own reasoning.  The purpose of this post, in contrast to many of my prior posts, is not to convince the reader that they ought to so prioritize the church leaders’ beliefs over their own.  Rather, it is more to provide a taxonomy of sorts for such reasons, if only for the purpose of clarification.  Commenters are encouraged to specify which reasons they do and do not endorse as well as provide and categorize any reasons that I might have missed. (more…)

Obedience vs. Self-Sufficiency

July 17, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 3:11 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Truth

Over at Wheat and Tares, Hawkgrrrl wrote an interesting post on the difference between obedience and self-sufficiency.  She mentioned how pretty much everybody teaches both perspectives to their children, but if push came to shove and they could only teach one, religious people would teach obedience while secular families would choose self-sufficiency.

In the comments to that post I pretty much rehearsed the reasoning behind my post, “The False Prophets We Follow”, wherein I suggest that self-sufficiency in the sense of not following or obeying what anybody else teaches us is a myth which serves to reinforce secular values at the expense of religious values.  Our thoughts and values have almost entirely been taught us by other people and/or spirits.  Thus, the question is not whether we or our children will obey or be self-sufficient (this is not exactly the question that Hawkgrrl was asking); the question is whether we or our children will construe the choices we make in our lives in terms of obedience or self-sufficiency. (more…)

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 (more…)

The False Prophets We Follow

July 8, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 5:42 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,Personal Revelation,Truth

“And behold, others he flattereth away … and he saith unto them: I am no [prophet], for there is none.” (2 Nephi 28:21)

“When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence… Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.” (Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, May 1997, p. 25)

Discipleship and Euthryphro’s Dilemma.  At one point in His ministry, Jesus taught a doctrine which seemed patently absurd to his disciples – so absurd, in fact, that many of them turned away from Him at that point.  In so doing they were using their trust in doctrine to constrain their trust in a prophet.  Jesus then turned to the Apostles and asked if they too would leave to which they responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.”  In so doing they were using their trust in a prophet to constrain their trust in doctrine.  We all must also pick and choose who or what we follow in our lives.  By picking a ‘who’, we necessarily also choose a ‘what’ and by picking a ‘what’, we inevitably also choose a ‘who.’  Many times we frame the decisions we make in terms of ‘what’ so as to occlude, disguise or otherwise repress the ‘who’ which necessarily accompanies any such choices.  While I am willing to concede that our motives for doing this are not always so sinister in nature, I do want to suggest that – contra Euthyphro’s dilemma – there is no deep, intrinsically binding or non-question begging reason for prioritizing doctrines over prophets in our lives. (more…)

Priesthood Authority vs Inter-Personal Reasoning

June 9, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 1:55 pm   Category: Personal Revelation,Truth

“All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it…”

-D&C 93

I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.

-History of Church 7 Vols. 1:338, 339

Consider the not unusual case in which two people who, having searched, pondered and prayed in all faithfulness and earnestness, come to two different conclusions regarding how they ought to believe, speak and/or act.  The first way of resolving this disagreement would be with an appeal to priesthood authority in which one side acquiesces to the presiding authority of the other.  The second way would be with an appeal to inter-personal reasoning in which, very roughly speaking, the less persuasive side acquiesces to the more persuasive side.  The chart below summarizes many of the central differences which underlie these two mechanisms for resolving differences in prayerfully considered positions. (more…)

Laban’s Execution and the Manifesto on Plural Marriage

January 21, 2014    By: DavidF @ 6:31 pm   Category: Ethics,Personal Revelation,Theology

Laban’s execution ranks among the most troubling stories in Mormonism.  It’s often used as a story to show that obeying God is more important than what we think is right.  Alternatively, it’s used as an example to show how we should question commandments.  It’s been explained away as a justifiable action under Jewish law.  It’s been entertained as a possible example of Satan’s power to deceive (Nephi in this instance).  Nephi and Laban have been compared to Abraham and Isaac, and David and Goliath.  Critics cite it to discredit Mormonism, and apologists use it to bolster Mormonism.  What makes Laban’s execution so interesting is not only what it tells us about Nephi, but what it tells us about God.

Laban’s execution takes us through three stages in Nephi’s mind.  When Nephi discovers Laban stumbling through the dark Jerusalem streets, God prompts him to kill the defenseless drunk.[1]  Nephi refuses to obey God because killing, ironically enough, is against God’s commandments.  God again commands Nephi to kill Laban.  The second time, Nephi pauses to come up with a reason to justify what God has asked him to do.  Nephi contemplates Laban’s offenses.  Just earlier that night Laban took all of Nephi’s family’s possessions and tried to kill Nephi and his brothers; he had disobeyed God.  The rationalization may be compelling for some, but Nephi evidently couldn’t convince himself.  So God commands Nephi a third time to take Laban’s life.  But this time, God explains why Nephi should obey his commandment.  God points out “It is better that [Laban] should perish than that [the future Nephite civilization] should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”  God has Nephi weigh the literal death of one man against the spiritual death of a whole nation.  Put in modern parlance, God gives Nephi a utilitarian reason for executing Laban.  Nephi then obeys.

It would be easy to draw some harmful lessons from this story.  Presumably, Nephi did the right thing by refusing to obey until God gave him a reason to obey.  Should we adopt Nephi’s unwillingness when we face tough commandments?  Probably not.  The Book of Mormon itself contains other stories where people took the leap of faith before knowing fully what would happen.  Nephi had just declared, one chapter earlier, that he’d obey whatever God told him to do.  Laban’s execution gives us the rare look at how a prophet, and how God, works through a situation where two commandments clearly contradict each other.  And while Nephi tries to obey the more newest one, he waits for God’s approval before acting.  There was simply no third way for Nephi, and I suspect that most people would rarely be put in Nephi’s position.  But at least one modern prophet faced a similar situation.

Wilford Woodruff had a dilemma.  God commanded the Saints to practice plural marriage.  But had they continued, the United States would imprison church leaders, close the temples, and confiscate many of the Saints’ property; the church would, in effect, perish.  Woodruff couldn’t obey one commandment (plural marriage) without failing on the other  (preserving the church).

Woodruff’s decision is sometimes taken as evidence that Mormonism is not what it claims.  If God really was in charge, He would have found a way to allow plural marriage to continue and the church to go on as it had.  Instead, he didn’t intervene, and he made Woodruff and the Saints abandon an immensely important commandment.  Clearly then, the argument goes, God doesn’t lead the Church.

The story of Laban’s execution offers an alternative conclusion.

Nephi

Wilford Woodruff

Choice 1: Kill Laban, save the church End plural marriage, save the church
Choice 2: Not kill Laban, church perishes Not end plural marriage, church suffers/perishes
Decision: Applies the greater good Applies the greater good

Laban’s execution shows that God will sometimes entertain a utilitarian judgment over directly intervening in some way to avoid the utilitarian solution.  Why?  The answer may be related to the answer to another, similar question: Why does God have imperfect people lead His church?  Perhaps it’s because the greater good is served by having people work together to improve an imperfect church rather than by having God so directly involved.  Sometimes God drops a Liahona in the sand, sometimes he commands his prophet to make do with the best of two bad choices.[2]

_______

[1] As an aside, some people have other problems with Laban’s execution.  Why couldn’t Nephi have just knocked Laban out, or what about all of the blood on Laban’s clothes that Nephi had adorned?  These aren’t criticisms of the story as it is told, but elements that Nephi didn’t explain.  I imagine that if Nephi anticipated these criticisms, he might have offered more detail on how the events unfolded.  For all we know, Nephi stole Laban’s clothes, Laban recognized him, and Nephi just recounted the order of events in reverse.  Stranger things have happened.

[2] The same argument I’ve offered here might also apply to Eve’s choice in the Garden of Eden.  However, it’s not entirely clear that Eve was thinking in utilitarian terms about her decision to eat the forbidden fruit and have children.

Intellectuals and Priesthood Authority (Intellectuals and Mormonism, pt. 3)

December 17, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 3:28 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

(P)recap.  The purpose of this series on intellectuals within Mormonism is bring the analytic tools of intellectualism against itself so as to help Mormon intellectuals recognize and perhaps second guess the choices that they actively make when they unnecessarily place themselves at odds with the church leadership.  To review, the first post identified the specific kind of intellectualism which the scriptures warn us against.  Briefly, the intellectual will be the person who holds that:

Any speech act can legitimately be called into question by any person, at any time and that a legitimate answer to that question cannot invoke any person’s position within society.

In the second post I articulated the ways in which Mormon intellectuals will not only tolerate, but actively embrace prophecy within their worldview.  In summary, the Mormon intellectual has no trouble negotiating a kind of compatibility between their intellectualism and their prophetic religion, since all doctrines can still be called into question and subsequently (dis)confirmed by God at any time.  In this way, the position which priesthood leaders have taken on any given issue becomes largely irrelevant to the position which Mormon intellectuals will take on the same issue.

While the Mormon intellectual can fully embrace the first leg upon which Mormonism stands (prophecy), he will have serious difficulties embracing the other leg: priesthood authority.  In this post I want to articulate the tensions that exist between intellectualism and priesthood authority, for I believe it is these that are the primary source of contention between the former and Mormonism. (more…)

Intellectuals and Prophecy (Intellectuals and Mormonism pt. 2)

November 12, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 6:39 pm   Category: Personal Revelation,Truth

Last post I tried to disentangle and nail down the type of intellectualism which is not compatible with Mormonism.  Briefly, Mormonism is not against us being good at using our intellect nor is it against us enjoying using our intellect for various purposes.  What Mormonism is against, however, is us believing, speaking or acting as if our intellect were the universal and indispensable judge of what we ought to believe, say or do.  Whereas the intellectual holds that the unexamined life is not worth living, the faithful Mormon places little importance in knowing the reasons for doing some things, save the Lord hath commanded it.  Having articulated a Mormon perspective on intellectualism, I would now like to switch gears and articulate the intellectual perspective on Mormonism.  While I will eventually argue in future posts that intellectualism fiercely rejects priesthood authority, in this post I want to show the compatibility of intellectualism with prophecy. (more…)

The Mechanics of Priesthood Blessings

September 21, 2013    By: DavidF @ 8:08 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Personal Revelation,PH/RS Lessons

The first priesthood blessing I gave terrified me.  How does one, exactly, pull inspiration out of the air and give a blessing?  No one ever described this to me; they just said it’ll happen.  But I had no idea of how the words would come to me.

We can divide priesthood blessings into two components: the procedure, and the mechanics.  We’re really good at discussing blessing procedure; that is, the steps to giving a proper blessing.  But how does one pick the words they use?  That’s the mechanics.

Below are some of my observations on priesthood mechanics, including an explanation of how I seek out inspiration in a blessing.

Do the Words Matter?

Firstly, do the words even matter in a blessing?  Elder Oaks pointed out that in healing blessings, the recipients faith and God’s will, not the verbiage used, determine the outcome.  So why should we fret about what to say?  The words serve at least two functions in a blessing.  First, when the priesthood holder echoes God’s will, the words enliven the spiritual environment where the blessing is given.  I think that this can give the recipient confidence in God’s power to heal.  Second, inspired words can help the recipient receive personal revelation.
(more…)

Blindness and Obedience

September 16, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 11:46 am   Category: Ethics,Personal Revelation,Scriptures

A basic distinction which I draw  in my attempts to undermine intellectualism, a distinction which I think serves to highlight the contingent nature of the intellectual’s values, is between a pre-modern/religious worldview and a modern/secular worldview.  Very briefly, the ways in which statements and actions are justified within a pre-modern, religious worldview include appeals to authority, tradition and revelation.   By contrast, within a modern-secular worldview statements and actions are justified by appeals to egalitarianism, logical coherence and empirical data.  So many of the debates in the bloggernacle can profitably be construed as a competition as to which of these worldviews is the uniquely right way to view some phenomenon.

You’re not a Liahona – You’re a Laman/Lemuel

September 8, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 5:46 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Truth

I assume that most people in the bloggernacle are aware of the Liahona/Iron Rod distinction wherein those who surrender personal responsibility by following the prophet (like the Iron Rod) are contrasted with those who accept a more robust kind of responsibility by following their own spiritual promptings (like a Liahona).  This metaphorical distinction, I submit, is nothing but the philosophies of men mingled with scripture – a clever sophistry which serves to undermine the prophets by democratizing priesthood authority. (more…)

“For He Taught Them as One Having Authority, and not as the Scribes.”

April 16, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 12:31 am   Category: Apologetics,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

One of the authors which has greatly influenced my present ambivalence toward intellectuals and academia is the sociologist Alvin Gouldner.  In this post I would like to briefly summarize his critical perspective on academia and then use this perspective in order to reframe various points and episodes from the scriptures.

Before I proceed, I should clear up (muddle up would probably be more accurate) my use of some terms.  I have and will continue to use the terms “academia”, “intellectuals”, “scientists”, “philosophers” and “those with a modern mindset” roughly interchangeably.  I consider all of these (sub-)groups to be different manifestations of what Gouldner call the Culture of Critical Discourse (CCD). (more…)

Revelation vs. Theology

August 6, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 3:19 am   Category: Personal Revelation,Theology,Truth

Suppose that the office at which you and 99 other people work asks each of you to individually write down the directions from your respective houses to the office.  Suppose further that from these accounts – and only from these accounts – somebody then tries to make a detailed map.  How reliable should we expect such a map to be?  What purpose should such a map serve that the directions themselves could not?  What details should we expect to find in the written directions but not in the map (or vice versa)?  Most importantly, which would you rather have if you were simply trying to get to the office from some person’s house? (more…)

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