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…)
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…)
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…)
“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…)
“All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it…”
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 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. 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.
|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.
 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.
 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.
(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…)
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 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.
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.
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…)
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…)
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…)
Editor Note: This guest post was submitted by one of our oldest friends here at New Cool Thang, Jeff G.
For the past few months, I have been struggling with some issues which are very close and dear to my heart. Put bluntly, my faith has been called into question. I find myself overwhelmed with suspicion and doubt, unable to trust so many of the values and beliefs which have become almost second nature to me. I also bear a peculiar mix of pity and resentment for those who have led me astray. While I have concluded that many of the pursuits which I have dedicated myself to most passionately have largely been a waste of time, my feelings are not entirely negative. I do recognize that I will forever treasure the experiences and relationships I have cultivated within the fold from which I now wish to distance myself. More than anything, however, I now face the unknown future with an optimism unlike anything I’ve experienced before, an optimism born of knowing that I am making the right choice.
For those few bloggers who have been interacting with me for the better part of a decade now, this song should sound somewhat familiar to you. You see, this is not the first time that I have abandoned my faith. Roughly 6 years ago, I stunned my friends, family and (at the time) wife by announcing that I no longer believed in God and would no longer continue as a believing Mormon. Various considerations which I will lump together under the banner of “Liberal Science” had persuaded me that the religion of my upbringing was not true and, therefore, must be rejected.
About three years ago I was listening to a Sunstone Symposium recording (a “Pillars of my Faith” talk) given by John Kesler where he talked about his conversion to the gospel after being an atheist for quite a while. He also mentioned that later in his life as a member of the church he started meditating with a Zen Buddhist which led him to feel incredible love and connection with God, which has also allowed him to occasionally hear God’s voice. He also described the experience as training one’s thoughts and gaining self mastery. As a result, I was intrigued with the concept of meditation as a spiritual practice and decided to look into it some more.
I found out that meditation is a part (or has been a part) of the spiritual practice of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. for thousands of years. I started paying attention to the use of the word meditation in the correlated materials and the word is often used in conjunction with prayer, scripture study, and fasting as a means to feeling God’s presence and experiencing personal revelation. However, the context that I believe most Mormons use the word is often synonymous with the concept of pondering, or thinking deeply about something; rather than as a systematic mental exercise. The spiritual practice of meditation in other traditions seems to be somewhat different than what I think Mormons do (though it may still be parallel in some regards).