Kierkegaard, Abraham and Isaac

July 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 6:42 pm   Category: Ethics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

Clark has mentioned in a couple threads how he thinks my position is very similar to that of Soren Kierkegaard.  There are several important parallels between Kierkegaard’s thinking and my own, but this should not blind us to the important differences.  At the heart of our differences is that Kierkegaard follows the Protestant thinking of his time – the same thinking that he so strongly disagrees with is other ways – in assuming that religion in deeply and irretrievably individualistic.  This individualism is exactly what makes Kierkegaard the father of existentialism, while I on the other hand, am much more of a pragmatist of sorts.

A convenient way of looking at the differences between myself and Kierkegaard can be found in his reading of Abraham’s being commanded to sacrifice Isaac.  For Kierkegaard, this story illustrates how God and our faith in Him is neither reasonable nor moral, at least not in any human-centered or social sense that Kant, Hegel or any other modern thinker would recognize.  Abraham did not explain himself to Isaac for the simple reason that he could not explain himself.  There was, quite frankly, no reasons to give on the matter.  Any attempt at explaining, discussion or arguing, according to Kierkegaard, would have inevitably brought Abraham’s faith back into the realm of socially regulated reasons and morals.  (It is very much worth noting what Sartre also noted: that Abraham never for a single second questioned his interpretation of God’s commandment.) (more…)

Sources of Legitimacy

July 1, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 3:32 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

In this post I wanted to briefly sketch out some of my own thoughts and taxonomies regarding how we go about legitimizing claims and positions.  I realize that the distinctions I make aren’t all that fine grained, but I prefer to sacrifice a certain amount of complexity for the sake of clarity.  When somebody calls some belief, position or claim into question there are, I submit, 4 primary ways in which we legitimate such things:

  1. They look “up” to authority, office or some other person who is set apart to answer such questions
  2. They look “out” to nature through observation, experiment, measurement, etc.
  3. They look “inward” to feelings, promptings, instincts and passions, etc.
  4. They look “back” to the past in traditions, customs, sacred texts and other things that have stood the test of time.

(more…)

Tokens and Signs vs. Evidence and Reason

June 17, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 5:56 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

The story of Adam and Eve is about as anti-intellectual as they come.

When confronted by teachers they did not ask for evidence or reasoned justifications that might support an abstract proposition or truth.  Instead, they asked for simple signs, tokens and other indicators that the teacher (rather than their message) was authorized by God.  Indeed, they essentially ignored those people that could offer nothing more than scriptures or philosophical reasoning and seemed pretty uninterested in the explanation or justification for those things that they actually did accept as binding upon them.

Whatever we might call this approach to the gospel, it is not apologetics or systematic theology – approaches that basically agree with Lucifer in thinking that the (scriptural) evidence and (philosophical) reasons for a teaching have anything to do with the authority of the teacher.

Edit:  It’s also worth pointing out that when Adam and Eve finally did get an explanation for the sacrifices they had been performing, the explanation was simply the declaration of an unobservable (even in principle) purpose or meaning.

The (Non-)Problem of Interpreting Revelation

June 16, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:40 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology,Truth

“[After Newton t]he universe is one great harmonious order; not, as for Thomas and the Middle Ages, an ascending hierarchy of purposes, but a uniform mathematical system…

“Nature was through and through orderly and rational; hence what was natural was easily identified with what was rational, and conversely, whatever, particularly in human society, seemed to an intelligent man reasonable, was regarded as natural, as somehow rooted in the very nature of things. So Nature and the Natural easily became the ideal of man and of human society and were interpreted as Reason and the Reasonable. The great object of human endeavor was to discover what in every field was natural and reasonable, and to brush aside the accretions irrational tradition that Reason and Nature might the more easily be free to display its harmonious order.”

John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, p. 260,76

Within the scriptures we find very little, if any mention of some “problem” with interpreting (personal) revelation.  While we do find numerous example of how problems arise from interpreting scriptures (JS-History), we also find that revelation is always the clarifying solution to such problems of interpretation.  Why is it, then, that the interpretation of revelation is mentioned so often within the bloggeracle?  What assumptions and values must be in place for interpretation to be construed as a problem and what was the historical emergence of these assumptions and values?  In order to approach the “problem” of interpretation I will first draw a conceptual trichotomy and will then draw a brief historical sketch of how the problem of interpretation was invented. (more…)

A Brief History of Absolute Truth

June 9, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:31 pm   Category: orthodox,Theology,Truth

In the beginning, prophets (or priests) were the source of truth.  What they said was binding upon all within their stewardship and beyond question.  In this way, authority and revelation were two peas within the same pod.  Since prophets had no competition, truth was thought to be single and unified, but only within the immediate context.  Since different prophets have stewardship over different times and places, their truth was not universal and unchanging in any transcendent sense.

As the stewardships of these prophets expanded, it became practically necessary to record and transmit their words by writing.  Thus, scribes came to be a derivative source of truth in that they interpreted the written word to those to sought access to prophetic guidance when there were no living prophets at hand.  In was in this context that the words of prophets could and often did travel in space and time beyond their limited stewardships.  Truth, then, began to appear more heterogeneous and at times conflictual.  Within this context, the difference between living and dead prophets became blurry. (more…)

Reason After Authority

June 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 6:36 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

Over at Mormon Metaphysics Clark has a great post worth reading about how much of the discussion surrounding the nature of truth can be replaced by a discussion regarding how to adjudicate disagreements.  I am very much on board with this suggestion and thought I’d provide a bit of history to this conversation.

Even Galileo owed his formulation of dynamics to no experimental discovery. He tells that he rarely resorted to experiment except to convince his Aristotelian opponents, who demanded the evidence of the senses; and all his life he retained the very considerable error that g, the acceleration of gravity, is fifteen feet per second…

In the Renaissance, as always, men turned to the careful observation of nature only after every other idea and authority had failed. What the revival of ancient learning did for science was to bring a wealth of conflicting suggestions into men’s ken, and force them to appeal to reason to decide; just as the Reformation by its warring interpretations of the Bible similarly forced a religious rationalism.

-John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, Pg. 218

What this passage is meant to suggest is that in the Scientific Revolution and the Protestant Reformation appeals to reason and empirical observation came only after appeals to authority had been made and were themselves a way of adjudicating situations in which there were competing authorities.  Regardless of whether one agrees with the priority suggested by this passage, the strongest point worth making is that there are means other than reason and evidence by which disagreements might be settled.

Within this context it is worth noting that one is hard pressed to find authorities within the LDS priesthood that are at a similar level such that they can be placed in competition with one another.   Only one person is allowed to have a particular level of keys and authority over any stewardship (see D&C 28), thus leaving no need or room for appeals to reason and empirical evidence to settle disagreements.  It is only by artificially placing priesthood authorities in competition with one another that reason and evidence could ever appear to be necessary.

Against Natural Theology

May 22, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:33 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Scriptures,Theology,Truth,Universalism

“Of course it was not given to mortal reason to decipher the hieroglyph of the universe in detail; but the important fact is that this was the fundamental aim of all wisdom and learning, coloring the whole intellectual life and all but excluding any interest in prediction and control, in “natural science” as we know it. From this follows the intense faith in the intelligibility of the world that makes the medieval scholar, whether mystic seeking wisdom by intuition and vision, or rationalist seeking it by dialectic, reject our modern agnosticisms and romanticisms…
“Whether the mystic sought symbolism in nature or in history, or the scholastic sought the form and end of all things, there was this same hierarchical order of importance leading up to God, supreme reality, supreme end, supreme genus. And since such was the use of learning, it mattered little, after all, whether nature be exactly described or history accurately written…
“Indeed, a knowledge of natural history for its own sake would have been regarded as almost blasphemous, taking men’s thoughts away from its essential meaning for man.”

                                        – John Herman Randall, Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, pg. 35

“…all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

                                        -Alma 30:44

(more…)

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.

A Genealogy of the Tall and Spacious Building

May 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:31 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,orthodox,Theology,Truth

A three step identification of and response to disloyal criticisms of the church:

  1. The values and premises that motivate the criticism are not universal, timeless or necessary.  They arose through a specific historical process.  They are not “just there” to be recognized.
  2. These values and premises historically arose outside of the legitimate priesthood channels and as such are not binding revelation.  They are the philosophies of (wo)men.
  3. These values and premises were specifically designed to either sideline or undermine priesthood channels as such, and were never aimed exclusively at the priesthood authorities of some other church.  The proper constraint upon unrighteous priesthood authority is the restoration of righteous priesthood authority, not a reformation through critique and reason.

A faithful criticism, by contrast, would be rooted in values and premises that 1) at some point in history were 2) either received or endorsed by the proper priesthood channels and 3) does not sideline or undermine priesthood authority as such.  Exposing the hidden personal unrighteousness of a leader would be a perfect example.  Exposing how that leader’s policies or teachings are incompatible with premises and values that go back 300 years to a philosopher who was fighting against “traditional” authorities is not.

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.

The Lord’s Truth: Universal but not Objective

October 14, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 3:53 pm   Category: Apologetics,Truth,Universalism

The gospel is universal in that all people, be they black or white, bond or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile are to accept it by coming unto Christ.  It is not, however, objective. (more…)

Neo-Pragmatism and a Young Earth

September 30, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 12:27 pm   Category: Before Abraham,Determinism vs. free will,spirit birth

Neo-pragmatism (at least as Richard Rorty understands it) is committed to the position that, in some sense, the earth did not exist until there was a community of people to conceptualize and categorize it as such.  To be sure, there are obviously ways of reading this which do not do justice to the neo-pragmatists.  The main point at issue lies in the question, “In what sense did the earth not exist until relatively recently?”  I think this question is especially interesting within the context of a Mormon worldview that – in some sense – believes in a very young earth.  In this post I want to sketch out some (very) rough interpretations and possibilities of how neo-pragmatism might(!) link up with LDS claims.  (Warning: rampant speculation ahead!) (more…)

Three Models of Church Membership

September 5, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 2:52 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Theology,Truth

(This is the 3rd post in my series “The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere”.)

In this post I would like to use Jürgen Habermas’ Transformation of the Public Sphere to distinguish between three different types of active members which we find in the church today.  Roughly following Habermas, I will call these three kinds of church membership the feudal, critical and consumer models of church membership.  I say “roughly” because Habermas’ account leaves the reader with the impression that there are only two models – feudal and critical – since the consumer type of society just is its re-feudalization.  Although he does not explicitly equate feudal and the consumer societies with each other, I think his failure to explicitly disentangle the two is not just an incidental shortcoming of his book, but a strategic move aimed at furthering his own critical perspective.  I would also suggest that many people within the bloggernacle (myself included) do the exact same thing. (more…)

A uniquely Mormon atonement

August 20, 2014    By: Matt W. @ 8:21 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology

What are the elements within our Faith’s conception of the atonement which are unique to it? Here I will attempt to name a few. (more…)

The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere – pt. 2

July 29, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 7:55 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Theology,Truth

In my last post I introduced Jurgen Habermas’ book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and argued that it is very relevant to us in the bloggernacle.  More specifically, I argued that just as how during the Enlightenment independent people came together in a public forum so as to engage in critical debate which eventually served to erode the perceived legitimacy of their state authorities, so too us within the bloggernacle come together as independent persons in this public forum so as to engage in critical debate which can – if we are not careful – erode the perceived legitimacy of our church authorities.  The bloggernacle is largely characterized by the same three traits that structured the public sphere which Habermas sees at the center of democratic politics:  Open accessibility to all, equality amongst interlocutors and all topics are open to critical discussion.  My point in that post was not to accuse anybody in particular of undermining the authority of our leaders so much as it was to warn us all how easy it is to seamlessly and unnoticeably slide from “a public sphere in which the [priesthood authority is] merely represented before the people [to] a sphere in which [church] authority [is] publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people.” (p. xi)   In this post I want to articulate the subtle steps by which this transition can happen. (more…)

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