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…)
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?
A guest post submitted by our good friend J. Stapley:
In this post, I hope to successfully describe what I believe to be a prominent and persistent failing among individuals seeking to explore Mormon cosmology. Specifically, I will describe the common use of analogy, its limitations and highlight how, when employed in the exploration of Mormon thought, it frequently yields conclusions that are highly unreliable.
When forming an analogy, an individual takes a source and then maps attributes onto a target. For an analogy to be successful, both the source and the target have to be systemically continuous. That is to say, they have to be playing by the same rules. Furthermore, for any likelihood that the analogy be accurate, the observer has to be aware of the rules.
Let’s look at some historical examples of failed analogies and how they relate to the two requirements of likely analogical success:
In the absence of revelation on the subject, we are left to speculate on the nature of spirits. In this post I will to sketch out some of the possibilities.
Spirits vs. Intelligences vs. Minds
One of the first difficulties we have is with definitions. There is no clear revelation that explains whether a spirit is the same thing as an intelligence or not. There is some evidence to support the idea that spirits/intelligences/minds are all names for the same thing, or at least that Joseph Smith considered them to all be names for the same thing. But counter arguments have been made that spirits are a more complex things than intelligences/minds. (Eternal minds and intelligences are almost universally considered to be the same thing in Mormonism as far as I can tell.)
Beginningless or not?
Near the end of his life Joseph Smith taught that the “mind of man” is co-eternal with God and thus without a beginning. Brigham Young was away on a mission when Joseph Smith publicly taught this idea and Brigham taught years later that the mind of man does indeed have a beginning. BH Roberts and others later attempted to bridge this gap between Joseph and Brigham with the tripartite model of spirits where our spirits are essentially bodies (with a beginning) made of spirit matter that are powered by our beginningless (presumably immaterial) minds/intelligences. Orson Pratt speculated that spirit matter is made up of atoms or particles like all other matter and that at least some individual spirit particles have a rudimentary intelligence. He further suggested that these intelligent particles could somehow unify to create higher order minds. So in his model, only the rudimentary parts of the mind of man are beginningless while the human-level mind clearly has a beginning.
Jacob J and I have been l somewhat half-heartedly putting together this post for over a month now. Seeing J. Stapley’s excellent post over at BCC, I thought I’d dust it off a bit and post it. The scope of this post is not to put forth any foundational doctrine or all encompassing concept of theology, but it is merely our hope to establish a few concepts regarding Joseph’s beliefs regarding spirits, and specifically his understanding that pre-mortal human spirits were in human form, which some would term a spirit body. We readily acknowledge that Joseph’s thoughts on this matter are disputed and the sources we have are ambiguous enough to support multiple readings.
With that in mind, it seems prudent to survey as many quotes as possible and look for points on which they seem to converge. While one, two, or even three quotes may be disputed, we believe the combined evidence of these statements puts forward a strong case for what Joseph may have believed on the subject. We provide or reference all the statements and sermons we think are pertinent to the subject below. Please feel free to add to these in the comments, if you know of any statements on the subject (for or against) that we may have missed. (more…)
What is a spirit? Joseph Smith talked a good deal about spirits and minds, but he never clearly articulated his view of what constitutes a spirit. This leaves us in an unfortunate position of trying to piece together what he must have believed about spirits from other things he said. On one hand, he was clear and consistent in asserting that spirits are co-eternal with God and have existed from all eternity. On the other hand, he used language that suggests an ontological dualism in which mind is a different sort of thing than matter. (more…)
Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen. (D&C 28:10)
thus becoming the Father and Sonâ€” And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. (Mosiah 15: 3-4)
There isn’t much question that our scriptures, both ancient and modern, speak of multiple divine persons unifying to make up the great One God. So if two or three divine person can unify to make up the One God what is the maximum number? Seems to me that there is none…
I have been thinking about the implications of Joseph Smith insisting that we as individuals are co-eternal with God. Joseph used the terms “spirits” and “intelligences” interchangeably. Lots of effort has been spent by Mormon thinkers and leaders since then to undo or explain away Joseph’s thoughts on that. I think that is because the idea of us having “whole cloth” beginningless spirits as opposed to having some kind of a beginning is both hard to comprehend and damaging to a lot of our traditional theological assumptions. I wrote a post about some of those problems here. There are several theological theories in Mormonism that assume we do indeed have a beginning. There is the whole viviparous spirit birth theory that nowadays usually tracks to the tri-partite intelligence->spirit->physical body model introduced by BH Roberts. Before that Brigham Young and Orson Pratt liked the spirit particles model. (See our previous Spirit/Intelligences discussions here) The Young/Pratt version assumes just our parts are eternal, not our current spirits. The Roberts model assumes our spirits are not eternal but we have an eternal “intelligence” that powers our spirit body that powers our physical body.
Anyway, if we assume for this post that Joseph meant it when he called spirits eternal and that he never intended to say there is a difference between spirits and intelligences, we have interesting theological possibilities we are left with. It makes me think of the well known verse of scripture:
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? (John 10: 34)
So here is my meandering end to a meandering post: What do you think beginningless spirits would do to provide some variety to their endless life and stay diverted and busy forever? I must admit that I have been wondering recently if boredom alleviation is an eternal principle …
“I Am a Child of God” is a classic Mormon hymn and it teaches a fundamental Mormon doctrine — all people are children of God. The problem is that most Mormons seem to assume they are only children of God the Father. Not so. Our scriptures clearly teach that all of the faithful are also children of God the Son. Here are some of the relevant passages.
We are the children of Christ:
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:7)
An interesting side discussion popped up in a recent post on the topic of spirit birth. In that thread I mentioned: “I think the evidence against some kind of literal spirit birth (especially a viviparous birth like our mortal birth) is much stronger than any evidence for it.” Since the answer to this question has major implications about the nature of the Father, Jesus Christ, and even us I think it is worth looking at. In this post I will discuss the evidence I am aware of against the idea of literal/viviparous spirit birth, the evidence in favor, and since today is Father’s Day I will also mention some of the implications of this question concerning the “fatherhood” of the members of the Godhead. (more…)
Joseph Smith introduced the idea of “intelligences” in both modern scripture and in non-canonized sermons. In this post I want to explore what exactly it is that “intelligences” are. I don’t expect to come up with definitive answers because I don’t think enough has been revealed to find such, but I do hope that a fruitful discussion will ensue that helps us all sort out the various ideas that relate to the concept of intelligences. (more…)
Several months ago I wrote a post titled “Are we eternal or is it just our parts that are eternal?” (Also see follow up posts here and here.) The basic question had to do with the nature of our Intelligences/spirits/souls. There are many in the church who believe that human spirits are simple and irreducible and beginningless. In other words, they assume that each of our spirits have existed as they are now forever. I like to call this the “whole cloth” model of spirits. This idea comes from an understandable reading of both modern scriptures and of sermons from late in the life of Joseph Smith (like the King Follet discourse). But others in the church have read the same sources and concluded that our spirits are actually made up of particles of intelligence that cleave unto each other and that while those particles are beginningless and irreducible, the new whole that is us has a beginning. This idea, often called “spiritual atomism” was first championed in the church by apostle Orson Pratt. (more…)
One of the things that remain a mystery to the world is the nature of the soul. I have already written a couple of posts on this subject, the first was called “Are we eternal or is it just our parts that are eternal?” and the second was my recent post on the Sterling McMurrin book. McMurrin put it pretty well when he said the question was one of what our spirits are made of – are they necessary or contingent; are they made up of irreducible parts or are they “simple”, irreducible, and indestructible themselves. When he wrote his book in 1965, McMurrin felt that the parts model was dominant in Mormonism. (more…)
I am finally getting around to reading Sterling McMurrin’s 1965 book called “The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion“. Clark already sponsored a reading club for this book about 18 months ago so in this post I will pick up on that long-dead discussion and follow Clark’s outline. Both Clark and Dave started by posting on the topics covered in the first eleven pages. (more…)