I think we can all agree that within Mormonism there is a certain kind of ambivalence toward intellectualism, even if we aren’t quite able to put our finger on it. On the one hand, it seems clear that Mormonism embraces intelligence as such, going so far as to equate it with the Glory of God. Along these lines we are also told to seek truth and knowledge from the best books and counseled that to be learned is good so long as we don’t abandon the faith. On the other hand, there are at least as many passages which warn us of the learned and scholarly who preach the philosophies of men according to the understanding of the flesh. These tensions within the scriptures leave one wondering what place, if any, is to be found for intellectuals within the church. (more…)
Psychology Today’s latest issue discusses the double edged nature of virtues. Sometimes a virtue, either taken to excess or cherished too dearly, warps into a vice. The article gives several examples.
Fairness is a virtue. But it’s easy to become obsessive about fairness, especially when it plays in our favor. The article references a father who told his daughter he would miss her birthday because he had a business opportunity. ”When she dried her tears, she told him it was OK—as long as he missed her sister’s birthday, too.” Of course, the daughter could have been thinking more selfishly than fairly, but even if the father had made this call himself, it’s hard to say he was acting virtuously. In fact, I imagine with some thought, we could come up with some other reasons why fairness should be tempered (the justice/mercy problem springs to mind).
Another example from the article is agreeableness or niceness, which in more religious terms we could call meekness. Being really nice is good, but when it overtakes being assertive, we can not only harm ourselves, but others as well. As the article points out, people who are agreeable tend to have lower salaries and get fewer promotions, and in some cases can strain romantic relationships because they’re too dependent and clingy.
While the virtues listed in the article serve mainly in the corporate context, Mormonism prizes several virtues that didn’t make this list, such as obedience, faith, and charity. Perhaps these virtues can also morph into vices. Can we become obsessively obedient? Does an excessive reliance on faith corrupt it? Can the compulsive pursuit of charity become a vice?
A lot of elders on my mission liked saying, “If you’re 99% obedient, you’re disobedient.” Not only do I worry about the psychological ramifications of this statement (as, apparently, does Elder Holland), but I wonder if the statement excuses obsessive obedience.
The pharisees are the classic example of over-obedient followers. Not only did they obey the law, but they hedged the law with non-divine rules just to be extra careful. Ironically, as Jesus pointed out, their law hedging made them disobedient, because they became so focused on superfluous details that they lost sight of the actual law itself. Furthermore, their obsessive obedience made them intensely judgmental. (more…)
Consider the following (and somewhat lengthy) sociological analysis of those tendencies toward dogmatism which we associate with correlation:
“The dogmatism which subsequently mushrooms among Mormons is thus already half-prepared by the stasis of critical thought inherent in doctrinal form; but this is only a potential for dogmatism which Mormonism shares even with conventional normal science. If Mormon dogmatism is not a development alien to science itself but a potential it shares with it, why does this potentiality blossom so fully in Mormonism?… (more…)
Is it too much of a stretch to say that any Mormon discussion of the atonement must answer the big three questions: Where are we going? Why are we here? Where did we come from?
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…)
Let me lay some cards on the table, if only to provide a bit of context for what I want to say. I am a strong and unequivocal evolutionist who places Darwin at the very core of my philosophical mindset. My relationship to religion, on the other had, is …. complicated. I don’t think any of the standard categories unambiguously matches up with what I think and feel, and I’m somewhat okay with that. I just hope that these confessions serve to clarify rather than obstruct the conversation I hope to have. (more…)
One of the salient contrasts in Lehi’s dream is that between those who cling to the iron rod and those who enter the great and spacious building. On the one hand, the former grope about in a blinding fog, doing their best to find their way along a path which they cannot see. The latter, on the other hand, are (somehow) able to see this path from their vantage point up in the building, but are thus unable to follow it. The question I wish to raise is this: which is more rational, to do without understanding or to understand without doing? Indeed, one can interpret the river which separates the rod from the building as the distance which is required for any kind of “objective” analysis. Obviously, Lehi thinks it better to follow the path rather than survey it from a distance. (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…)
One of Neal A. Maxwell’s most memorable themes was that we have nothing but our wills to give God that was not already his. As he put it, “The many other things we ‘give’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us” (Neal A. Maxwell, If Thou Endure It Well, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996, pg. 55.). He expounded on this theme frequently and his reasoning seemed to hinge on the idea that whatever thing we think is ours is really God’s because he enabled us to obtain it in one way or other. We could not have it without air to breath, or earth to live on, etc. etc. (more…)
In recent posts I have pointed to the existence of different and in some ways incompatible conceptions of truth. As a brief reminder, I suggested that, roughly speaking, (S)cience sees truth as an accurate picture of the world as it objectively is while (R)eligion sees truth as a path which leads to some destination, i.e. God. In this post I wish to further carve out this distinction and the implications that it has on our conception of divine foreknowledge. (more…)
Editor Note: This guest post was submitted by one of our oldest friends here at New Cool Thang, Jeffrey Gilliam.
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. (more…)
“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”
-2nd Article of Faith
“All mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual”
It is a common claim (see for example Bhodge’s latest excellent post at BCC) the LDS church rejects “original sin”, and rightly so, due to our second article of faith, the belief that Adam and Eve took the fall as a progressive step, and due to our belief that small children are considered not accountable, and thus innocent.
However, one claim I am uncomfortable with, from Blair’s latest post (and I should add the claim is not his, but that of Peter J. Thuesen, is that this somehow allows our faith to escape the situation of an “inherently damnable humanity”, as Hodges quotes. It is, after all, our inherent damnability which is central to the Gospel.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ occurs to reconcile our sinful nature. We sin because we have free will and are weak creatures. The very plan of salvation (come to earth via birth, get a body, be apart from God, have faith, learn to repent, progress towards being heavenly creatures) is set up so that we can progress, and we would not be able to progress without God, we were selected by him to be his children, and he made it his “work and glory” to bring us up to a higher level of existence.
So if Mormonism does not teach the fall causing inherent damnability, it is only because we have removed it as our starting point, and thus moved our personal damnation back to our eternal selves. Our “original sin” truly becomes original to us, with the sin being our inability to achieve the loving nature required of us to live with God.
This does create for us a unique solution, in that our damnation is defined as our inability to attain a certain nature through our own ability, and God’s salvation is his giving us characteristics which we can use to attain to that nature. (A body, the light of Christ, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, covenants, the atoning help of Christ).
It also raises questions. If we are eternal, and unable to change, how does it become possible for God to make this change? I don’t really know, but I do believe.
There are currently, so far as I can tell, five distinctive models in LDS thought for our pre-existent state.
1.- Eternal Spirits in an eternal relationship with God and eternally of the same essence as God. – Sometimes attributed to Joseph Smith and championed by Blake Ostler, this notion is that we have always existed and have always been in the relationship we are now in with the Godhead. This concept faces the challenge of eternity and progression, ie- why did it take us so long to get to this life on earth? It also is commonly challenged by the spiritual creation narrative from the Book of Moses, though this is often dismissed by claims of doctrinal supersession. Some, like Geoff J, have used concepts like Multiple Mortal Probations to alleviate this challenge. In terms of Spirit Birth, there is no beginning, so no birth.
2. Eternal Spirits in a Non-eternal relationship with God but eternally of the same essence as God.- Also attributed to Joseph Smith, this concept was once speculated by Truman Madsen (When he wasn’t championing BH Roberts). It speculates that the Godhead was formed at a specific point in time via covenant for the purpose of bringing about God’s plan. By extension, just as the relationships of the Godhead had a beginning, so also do our relationships with God. While this sidesteps the challenge of eternity and progression, it does not completely eliminate it, and it also brings up the question of Joseph’s Ring Analogy (If there was a beginning, there must be an end). Another major challenge is that it has never been popularized by a prominent LDS leader or teacher. In terms of Spirit Birth, Spirit Birth is limited to merely being the adoptive change of state we go through via accepting our relationship with God the Father.
3. Eternal Spirits called Intelligences in a Non-eternal relationship with God and not eternally of the same essence as God (lacking a spirit body)- Here we have the concept championed by BH Roberts, and popularized by Truman Madsen. The main difference between this and #2 above is that it attempts to harmonize #2 with concepts and statements put forth by Brigham Young or the Pratts which called for Spirit Birth, as well as ideas like those found in the Book of Moses (spirit creation) with statements from Joseph Smith in the King Follet Discourse and in the Book of Abraham revelation. (spirits without beginning or end). This plan merely divides the pre-mortal state into segments, moving from amorphous intelligence to spirit body. Challenges to this concept include it being initially derided by higher general authorities, it’s having been intellectually thoughr out, rather than arrived upon via official revelation, and its common (though unnecessary) connection with spiritual vivaporous birth. This is one of the primary areas of spirit birth, though there is a range of belief as to how literal this birth is, going from a literal sexual act where spirit seed fertilizes spirit eggs, through less literal views up to something closely resembling #2 above.
4.Non-Eternal Spirits formed from unintelligent matter called intelligence and not eternally of the same essence as God (lacking a spirit body)- Championed by Brigham Young, this notion, it is argued, comes from the early apostles missing out (due to missionary work) on the later sermons of Joseph Smith, which were not verified nor widely available until BH Roberts published History of the Church. (or possibly until JFSII abridged it to TOPJS). Here we have something fundamentally similar to creation ex-nihilo, where God as creator takes the chaos of eternal matter, forming it so that our spirits may emerge naturally or supernaturally from within. Good spirits go on to greatness, while the bad ones face eventual obliteration, decomposing back to the raw material from which they came. Being like ex nihilo, it faces the challenges therein. Whether it escapes the problem of determinism depends on whether you feel life is naturally emergent from formed intelligence or if you believe God supernaturally made it so. However, naturally emergent life comes with its own set of challenges, primarily the lack of need for a creator. Sprit Birth here is typically of the sexual variety, though again, not really out of necessity. It could just as well be a chemistry set.
5. Non-Eternal Spirits formed from intelligent Matter called intelligence and not eternally of the same essence as God (lacking a spirit body)- Here we have Pratt and Pratt’s concept of spiritual atomism, with intelligent subparts coming together and forming, via synergy with God, a being greater than the sum of their parts. I always fail at describing this one correctly, having not been interested enough to dig through the seer and gaining most of what I know about it from the letter in which it is repudiated. So I’ll leave this one to more capable hands
So which Model do you prefer? Why?
If there is a God, why is there no objective evidence of his existence?
Asked from a skeptical perspective, this question becomes one of the strongest arguments against God’s existence, on par with arguments from the problem of evil. Trying to convince an atheist that there really is a God but he simply chooses to remain hidden can feel like trying to convince the child that the emperor really is wearing new clothes. Sometimes I tell my kids that I have super powers and then when they ask me to show them my powers I tell them “I could, but I don’t feel like it.” (more…)
Stephen Finlan, Author of “Options on Atonement in Christian Thought” ends his book with a modest proposal. It is that our understanding of divine revelation is subject to a form of evolution. Finlan Suggests that “God always seeks to deepen and expand the revelation of truth, but we humans (including the biblical authors) only perceive a part of the message. We adapt and domesticate new ideas to old and familiar ways of thinking. We always pour new wine into old wineskins, but the new wine expands and bursts open our containers (Mark 2:22), our old ways of thinking.”  Finlan calls this “progressive development in religious conceptualization”. (more…)