Discipline and Punish; Mercy and Justice

February 9, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 11:43 am   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Calvinism,orthodox,Scriptures,Theology

The modern mind struggles to make sense of the atonement. At least mine does. The Book of Mormon insists that because of the atonement, mercy can potentially be extended to us sinners without compromising the demands of justice. In my experience, most attempts at clarifying what this means amount to little more than free-wheeling metaphors… not that I have done any better. In this post I would like to summarize Michel Foucault’s three different models of criminal justice described in his classic work: Discipline and Punish. It is my hope that his historical method might shed some light on the subject.

The first form of criminal justice is that associated with “old monarchical law” and is, I suggest, that most closely associated with the scriptural notion of “justice”:

“The public execution … is a ceremonial by which a momentarily injured sovereignty is reconstituted. It restores that sovereignty by manifesting it at its most spectacular. The public execution, however hasty and everyday, belongs to a whole series of great rituals in which power is eclipsed and restored (coronation, entry of the king into a conquered city, the submission of rebellious subjects); over and above the crime that has placed the sovereign in contempt, it deploys before all eyes an invincible force. Its aim is not so much to re-establish a balance as to bring into play, as its extreme point, the dissymmetry between the subject who has dared to violate the law and the all-powerful sovereign who displays his strength.” p. 48-49

Within this model, suffering and torture are mechanisms by which a social order, the relationship between sovereign and subject to be more precise, is restored. It is a ritual aimed at restoring, not some balanced or calculable equilibrium, but the majesty of the king whose will or law (they are not the same) has been violated. Foucault later goes on to argue that the public infliction of a brutally physical pain that marks the body for all to see is central to this idea of justice. Most interesting is that this form of justice is more about restoring the majesty of a king (who is at peril of “ceasing to be king”) than it is about the criminal, thus allowing for vicarious punishments. The parallels between this model and the Old Testament idea that blood sacrifice is necessary to reestablish an at-one-ment are too obvious to miss. This pre-modern idea of justice was the standard during the times in which nearly all scripture was written. While the idea that this is violent conception of justice which God insists must be fulfilled might be distasteful to our modern sensibilities, I see no other way of reading such passages.

The second model is that of the utilitarian reformists, Cesare Beccaria being the quintessential example.  While this is the model in terms of which we moderns tend to argue about the merits of justice, Foucault’s main thesis is that, despite our claims to the contrary, this is not the model of justice that modern society has actually implemented:

“The ‘reformatories’ were mechanisms directed towards the future; they too were intended not to efface a crime, but to prevent its repetition. ‘As to the end, or final cause of human punishments. This is not by way of atonement or expiation for the crime committed; for that must be left to the just determination of the supreme being .. (Blackstone, 11). And in Pennsylvania, Buxton declared, the principles of Montesquieu and Beccaria should now have the ‘force of axioms’, that ‘the prevention of crimes is the sole end of punishment” (Bradford, 3). So one punishes not to efface the crime, but to transform a criminal (actual or potential)… The role of the criminal in punishment was to reintroduce, in the face of crime and the criminal code, the … penalty which, according to the terms of the code, must be infallibly associated with the offence… [I]t is with this coin that the offender pays his debt to society.” p. 126-128

Under this model, punishment is not an atonement of any kind, but rather a means of disincentivizing crime. For this reason, punishments must be calculated to inflict just enough (but no more!) suffering necessary to reform the future behavior, not only of the criminal himself, but of any would-be criminals as well. For this reason, the publicity of the punishment is indispensable, a publicity which also allowed for a democratic supervision of the penal system.  Within this model, what a person truly “deserves” for their crimes is largely left to punishment in the afterlife, thus making this model very well adapted to a separation between church and state.

The third model is that of disciplinary institutions whose techniques of control originate in monasteries and the military, but would later be appropriated within factories, schools and especially prisons.  Whereas the reformist model above was aimed at providing and representing a set of incentives according to which people would rationally and self-consciously adapt their own behavior, the disciplinary model is aimed at training the body to “do the right thing” without the need of rational or conscious direction:

“[T]his punitive intervention must rest on a studied manipulation of the individual… [e]xercises, … time-tables, compulsory movements, regular activities, solitary meditation, work in common, silence, application, respect, good habits. And, ultimately, what one is trying to restore in this technique of correction is not so much the juridical subject, who is caught up in the fundamental interests of the social pact, but the obedient subject, the individual subjected to habits, rules, orders, an authority that is exercised continually around him and upon him, and which he must allow to function automatically in him.” p. 128-130

Under this disciplinary model of justice, criminals are isolated from the public in order to imposed upon them the discipline that other institutions had (obviously) failed to instill within them. Thus, disciplinarian institutions are specifically aimed, Foucault argues, at re-shaping the soul of an individual such that their body becomes enslaved to it. It is unsurprising, then, that these techniques of control originated within monasteries and that the life of an LDS missionary (especially within the MTC) largely embodies this model. Indeed, the resistance which an individual experiences to such institutions can thus be viewed as a measure of the extent to which that person did not enter the institution as a well-trained and “docile body. ”

With these three models in place, we can now venture some tentative remarks about how the gospel, as Mormons understand it, relate to these ideas of justice.  For starters, I would point out that the final two are not really aimed at fulfilling justice in any scriptural sense at all in that they are simply not aimed at punishing a sinner for a sin which they themselves have committed, nor are they aimed at restoring any kind of fractured relationship. Instead, these modern models are aimed at shaping the future nature, inclinations and behavior of people.  They leave no room for the scriptural idea that past sins must be atoned for.

Closely related to the scriptural conception of justice are the ideas of repentance, mercy and grace. All three of these, I suggest, are most closely associated with the disciplinary model that Foucault objects to. A large part of repentance involves an attempt on our part to transform our own desires and behaviors to fit the celestial standard. Indeed, grace itself seems little more than a kind of supernatural discipline in which God reshapes our souls such that they become able to control the body differently. This metaphor lies at the very heart of the disciplinary model.

Although the utilitarian model  of reforming justice appears to be Foucault’s preferred model of the three, I see relatively little room for it within gospel teachings. To be sure, the utilitarian model works well enough for the latter end of the church/state divide, but there are two differences that make it quite alien to gospel teachings. The first is the idea that punishment is primarily a matter of restructuring incentives rather than transforming the soul. It is difficult to decide which claim is more suspicious: that man’s natural and unreformed desires are aimed at righteousness or that human reason is a reliable means to righteousness. The second point of difference is in its publicity of both the punished and the punisher.  While there are some exceptions, I see Mormon doctrine as standing in overall opposition to both a democratic supervision of the penal process as well as the idea of publishing punishments in the hope of deterring sin.

In conclusion, I will briefly summarize what I take to be a Foucaultian reading of the atonement: Justice requires the violent and bloody infliction of pain and suffering upon the sinner for the sake of restoring the violated sovereignty of God. The idea that pain and suffering just are, by very definition and without any exception, evils which God would never tolerate is a product of the utilitarian model of justice and completely false. Jesus, however, endured a violent and bloody infliction of pain and suffering which he did not deserve in order that we would not have to if the proper conditions are met. These conditions include the disciplinary transformation of our souls, a process that is impossible without God’s grace. This transforming process, while uncomfortable, is in no way a part of the violent punishment that is necessary for the atonement of our sins. (Again, discomfort is not, by definition bad.) Since repentance is discipline rather than punishment, it in no way atones for our sins – we can never discipline ourselves into the celestial kingdom. Only Jesus’s bloody sacrifice is able to accomplish this.


  1. Like you, I’ve heard dozens of models of why we need the Atonement, what it does, and how it works. While I think all of them (even the one you present here in your conclusion) have merit, as I’ve lived my life and had to repent of harm that was done to me by another’s sins, I think I’ve gained a different perspective, one that’s hard to explain. The Atonement is infinitely simple, yet incomprehensibly complex.

    All sin does damage of some kind. It separates us and others from God. Because our sin can damage us and others beyond our power to heal, we need an Intercessor. Someone who comprehends and can restore all sin, all damage, all sorrow.

    Because of Christ, someone who has done me harm can repent between him and Christ, without being condemned by the damage he has done to me. Likewise, I can repent and be healed without waiting for him to make restitution or to repent. I don’t need his repentance to heal, because my repentance and healing is between me and my Savior.

    That isn’t to say that the process of repentance between me and Christ will never require that I make amends to those I have hurt, as much as I can. But it does mean that for all the damage I do that I lack the power to repair, I have a Savior who CAN repair and CAN heal me.

    Fundamentally, we can never bridge the gap between us and God, between a state in which we do almost nothing but destroy, and one where we need do nothing but create. But God’s work and glory is to do just that—to find the irrevocably lost, heal the irreparably damaged, and redeem the irredeemable. No one analogy can encompass that.

    But I’m beginning to understand the part I need to understand to find my way through mortal life. And that is enough.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 9, 2016 @ 1:53 pm

  2. I’ve always liked the Gethsemane theory of atonement so popular in Mormonism. That is Jesus experiences what ever we have experienced – literally all our pains – so that he both knows how to heal us but also so we know we are not alone. Ultimately the atonement is about bringing us together despite our acts and our sufferings. While justice is part of that, the reconciliation is more akin to both fixing wrongs and understanding wrongs to make them better.

    I also like the model Jim Faulconer often raises where meaning is tied to future events. So the meaning of my suffering and my sins can change in the future as I become a new person and put them in a new context.

    Finally the to me key aspect of the atonement is giving us a new body so we literally have more freedom to be the sort of person we want to be — with each of us picking what that means. I’m a strong believer in the idea that ultimately judgment isn’t like a criminal court but having the experiences necessary that we can make an informed choice about what nature we want.

    Comment by Clark — February 9, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

  3. I just don’t think that the original audience of the scriptures would have understood the atonement in any of those ways. Indeed, I can’t help but be suspicious of all this philosophical razzle-dazzle that tries to explain ancient practices in terms that are utterly foreign to those ancient people.

    The biggest reason why I find Foucault’s distinction so helpful is that they are based in practices that have actually existed and been generally accepted by a larger population. Perhaps the worst of them all is anybody who claims that “process theology” holds the key to atonement.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 9, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

  4. I think there are elements there, but I think by and large the scriptures push simple metaphors that are “close enough” for people. However the idea that God knows our pains and sins is pretty prominent in the scriptures as part of the atonement.

    Comment by Clark — February 9, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

  5. With that I can agree.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 9, 2016 @ 7:52 pm

  6. I must say that I’m surprised that nobody has really engaged what I take to be the most important claim made in the OP: That justice is more about restoring an injured sovereignty than it is about giving a sinner what “he/she deserves” – although it might also involve the latter as well. (I see no reason why the model sidelines Gethsemane or precludes empathetic suffering.)

    This way of framing things makes a lot of scattered fragments fall into place: animal sacrifices, how an innocent person could suffer for the sins of another, how church discipline is much more an act of love rather than punishment, how no amount of discipline can save us from the demands of justice, the threat of God ceasing to be God, etc.

    To be sure, the idea of restoring an injured sovereignty is quite foreign to our modern, individualistic sensibilities, but I’m having a hard time seeing a deeper objection to the model.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 10, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

  7. The idea of a God who requires Atonement to repair his injured sovereignty is certainly consistent with the medieval way of looking at things (although I am less than convinced that kingship in ancient Israel was understood in this way, or even in Roman Judea), and seems to mesh with scripture. It is logically possible that such a being could exist, and would be consistent with a number of observations.

    It fails for me, however, on the most important of observations. Such a model could describe ‘a’ God, but it does not describe the God I know. Such a model makes Jesus’ suffering (and the suffering inflicted upon sinners) all about God’s ego, about stroking His pride and vanity. And the God I know and worship isn’t like that.

    Comment by Samuel — February 10, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

  8. Samuel,

    I am very open to the possibility that this medieval model of kingship may not generalize back in time. I would love to see a perspective on the issue that is more informed than my own. Until then, I assume that the medieval model generalizes in this way MUCH better than our modern model.

    I also reject the idea that repairing an injured sovereignty has anything at all to do with God’s ego. The very idea of sovereignty is intrinsically social in nature and therefore utterly irreducible to the perceptions or feelings of any individual. The idea that sovereignty = pride/vanity is quite clearly a modern ideology, in my opinion.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 10, 2016 @ 1:46 pm

  9. I did acknowledge it as one of several good working models, though I’d phrase it differently in order to help modern thinkers understand it.

    Rather than using the relatively dry phrase of “restoring injured sovereignty,” I think of it more as renewing/fulfilling the covenant of sovereignty. Much like the old pagan rituals of the Horned God, Christ’s suffering re-bound us to Him, and restored His divinity. The Atonement and the Fall are two sides of the same coin. Adam chose to separate us from God, and Christ as God chose to join us in the separation in order to complete the circle and re-bridge the gap. Only in the environment created by that yin and yang can we be both subject and exalted, reaching our potential as divine agents.

    When we make smaller covenants, we are accepting the larger one of the Fall/Atonement, and reaffirming God as our God. Thus, “restoring injured sovereignty” which we rejected by proxy as Adam’s children. It’s a theme frequently sounded in the Old Testament. But I still think it only describes a part of the Atonement.

    I’m not a philosopher, so I always get lost in the “so and so” this and “so and so” that, but I believe that is the essence of what you’re saying….

    Comment by SilverRain — February 10, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

  10. “Thus, “restoring injured sovereignty” which we rejected by proxy as Adam’s children.”

    I think this really gets at the heart of the issue that I have in mind: that of “proxy”. Why does hurting an innocent man make right what the sinner has wronged? Our modern individualism simply has no way of making sense of this. Christ suffering for us does not disincentivize sin, it does not discipline anybody, it is not giving the sinner what they deserve. In what sense, then, can this possibly be what justice demands?

    With animal sacrifices we tend to think that it is because the animal was “theirs” that it is able to stand in proxy for them. This is exactly what I am rejecting. When Abraham, Adam or somebody else finds a ram in the thicket and sacrifices it, the fact that Abraham was giving up his opportunity to eat or breed it is not the point. The point is that the burning or blood sacrifice itself “smells sweet” to the Lord – and we moderns just are not comfortable with this. The point is that animal sacrifices were a form of worship – the representation and proclamation of a lord’s sovereignty and dominion – not the mere sacrifice of opportunity costs.

    Perhaps the absolute opposite of this would be those who want an audit of how tithing is spent within the church. The priests of old literally lit tithes on fire, so to ask for a utilitarian audit is to totally miss the point.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 10, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

  11. I must say that I’m surprised that nobody has really engaged what I take to be the most important claim made in the OP: That justice is more about restoring an injured sovereignty than it is about giving a sinner what “he/she deserves”

    I confess the idea of justice as deserts has always bothered me. Not just because of the difficulty of figuring out deserts. After all at least a significant part of our choices are due to our biology. Even assuming God can disentangle biology from environment and make sense our of a free choice I’m not sure what we’re left with. And it might be that not even God can do that!

    We think we can talk about what people deserve in simple cases. But making a final judgment seems much trickier. I like how the Book of Mormon talks about the atonement making us free in terms of choices. That is, I like the idea of judgement as us deciding what we ultimately want. While Lehi’s statements in 2 Nephi 2 have to be contextualized in terms of his understanding, it is interesting that to him the issue is just of our ultimate aims.

    Reading that chapter in light of say N. T. Wright’s commentary on the meaning of “ends of the law” in Paul is quite interesting. I think often the way we read this even as Mormons is still very influenced and distorted by Lutheranism. There’s a lot going on there which is much more complex than a simple “punishment for deserts” theology.

    Comment by Clark — February 10, 2016 @ 3:30 pm

  12. “After all at least a significant part of our choices are due to our biology. Even assuming God can disentangle biology from environment and make sense our of a free choice I’m not sure what we’re left with.”

    I think you and I are bothered about this issue, but for very different reasons. As you know, I am extremely suspicious of the idea that causal explanations preclude justified punishments. The idea that punishment is not necessarily about what the sinner “deserves” would seem to provide an interesting perspective on the matter. I would have to give the matter more thought before I could say much more.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 10, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

  13. I suspect part of my skepticism is just of causal explanations. I think the very notion of cause is tricky. I guess I’m a bit of a Humean in that.

    The bigger issue of course is that justice can’t just be about deserts as the very notion involves far more things such as what is given people. It’s that bigger notion that I think makes things even more difficult, although 2 Nephi 2 suggests that the atonement resolves those thornier issues by making us sufficiently free to choose.

    Comment by Clark — February 10, 2016 @ 4:13 pm

  14. To add, I know I’ve not addressed the more Foucaltian aspects of your post. I’m still thinking through those. My skepticism is that while I think the kingship metaphor is an important one in scripture I’m rather skeptical it’s anything but a first order approximation for very primitive societies. That is I’m not sure we should see it as exhaustive of what the atonement actually is.

    Comment by Clark — February 10, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

  15. Jeff G.,
    You said “To be sure, the idea of restoring an injured sovereignty is quite foreign to our modern, individualistic sensibilities, but I’m having a hard time seeing a deeper objection to the model.”
    I think that is true for very good reasons. All thought along these historical and social lines seems to make religion just one more obsolete social institution. I’m never quite sure all this line of thought isn’t one big troll of religion in that the consequences of taking it seriously is religion seems like a lost cause.
    People still want stuff from God, things like immortality and prosperity or even ending an addiction. The only people I know that weren’t raised religious that think about sin or forgiveness of sins are those with a fairly traumatic experience in their life.
    Another way of saying this is that malum prohibitum has been growing relative to malum in se, and nobody really cares about God giving them forgiveness for malum prohibitum offenses.
    Still another way of saying it is that historical authorities were so bad that they ruined the concept forever. Legitimacy, authority and sovereignty are all seen as so irredeemably self-interested and hypocritical that they don’t work. Its just power all the way down now.

    Comment by Martin James — February 10, 2016 @ 4:22 pm

  16. “Why does hurting an innocent man make right what the sinner has wronged?”

    It doesn’t, unless both the sinner and the wronged accept the proxy. This is definitely getting to what I have felt to be true based on my recovery from abuse. It isn’t tasteful to our modern sensibilities that I have had to go through a repentance process for what was done to me, but I most definitely have.

    It is hard to explain, but in that repentance process, I had to get to the point where I was willing to let go of the wrongs done to me independent of the wrongdoer receiving justice. I have had to accept and even rejoice in the fact that I might have to sit across the temple aisle from the man who was my abuser. That Christ might absolve him of any wrongdoing without having punishment exacted from him. In context of this discussion, I had to stop concerning myself with the punishment of the one who hurt me, and acknowledge—reaffirm—the sovereignty of the Savior. To make Him my King in truth, in every ancient meaning of the word.

    It is not that He had to suffer to be God, per se. He was already God. But His suffering was necessary for me to understand that He was God. I had to believe that He cared for me, that He knew me even better than He knew Himself, and that because of His humility and condescension, I can understand enough to know He understands me…AND understands and loves the one who hurt me.

    I truly believe that the only way to understand animal sacrifice is to contemplate what replaced it. It is telling that Christ compared Himself to a shepherd. At the time animal sacrifice symbology began, the Adamic covenant was new. Death was new, at least symbolically. That is why, I believe, death was necessary to the renewal of the covenant Adam and Eve made to Elohim.

    Sigh. I wish I had better words to describe what I’ve come to understand. Suffice it to say that, while comparatively minuscule on the scale of human suffering, my experiences were dark enough to teach me a great deal more than I knew about the Atonement.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 10, 2016 @ 4:22 pm

  17. In other words, I believe that animal sacrifice and the Atonement it foreshadowed was not to convince God that we loved Him, it was to teach us that He loves us.

    Understanding death and mortality is essential to understand what it was God did for us when He came to this earth to be sacrificed for sin. Understanding mortal death is almost necessary to understanding spiritual death.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 10, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

  18. Clark,

    I don’t think sovereignty exhausts the atonement- only that’s its central to it.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 10, 2016 @ 4:56 pm

  19. I think it’s central to certain analogies but one has to be careful not to push analogies too far.

    Comment by Clark — February 10, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

  20. Okay, but my aim was to provide something other than an analogy.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 10, 2016 @ 8:11 pm

  21. What possible reason could God have for punishing anyone except to reform and deter? The idea that there is some sort of cosmic balance that requires ex post facto suffering by the first party or a third party for a sin committed by the first party, little Johnny taking a whipping for littler Johnny style, is perverse.

    The idea that God, with full discretion to do otherwise, imposes such suffering on little Johnny is even more perverse. What possible reason could He have to do that? Indeed, what possible reason could He have to impose punishment on littler Johnny in excess of the absolute minimum necessary to motivate him to repentance and reformation? Or even on the most violent of sinners, that in excess of what might be necessary to protect others from harm?

    Furthermore, where is the evidence that God actively imposes retribution on anyone as a matter of course? Isn’t merely withdrawing His Spirit by degrees enough to serve the purpose in the vast majority of cases? And that is certainly not retribution at all.

    As to the suggestion that suffering ***as such*** is necessary in some innocent party to make atonement for sins, that makes no sense either. A much better explanation is that Christ (or the body of Christ for that matter) suffers by acquaintance with both the sinner (to bring him to repentance) and those harmed by the sin (to redeem and restore them).

    Redemptive suffering makes much more sense as an inevitable artifact of acquaintance and restitution, or restoring the status quo ante and making all things right in other words. “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Work the verse says, real work.

    As for the unrepentant sinner, why would they suffer except by loss of acquaintance with God, loss of acquaintance with others, being the target of deterrent action, and experiencing the fatigue incident to making compulsory restitution?

    Comment by Mark D. — February 11, 2016 @ 4:19 am

  22. Christ’s suffering gave me a way out of my own. It wasn’t punishment. It was education. But it was very much redemptive.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 11, 2016 @ 5:17 am

  23. To me, the single best description of the Atonement, and the core of LDS theology is the second Chapter of Second Nephi. SilverRain describes a portion of this very well
    verse 7 ” Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”

    SilverRain’s desciption in 16 above of her acceptance of the connection between her own acceptance of other’s forgiveness and her own redemption via a broken heart and contrite spirit is magnificent and touching. Wow.

    As for Mark D. you may just be quibbling about what punishment means, but I have a hard time reconciling the idea that punishment is perverse with the description of opposition and misery in the second chapter of Nephi particularly verse 10 where specific punishments are affixed to specific laws.

    This gets me back to Jeff G. via the whole “social” aspect of law and Mark D.’s idea that everything is about being in the presence of God.
    Verse 16 is a key for me “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.”

    There is nothing like this in the social theories of the law. There is not a requirement to choose as an individual as being the point of existence. i don’t see any notion of temptation as being for the good of man in the 3 theories of justice described by Foucault which seem to presume social harmony is the point not choice and agency.

    Particularly verse 22 to 25 “23. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.”

    Mark D. may consider it perverse but apparently being in God’s presence without experiencing agency and law and oppositional misery brings no joy.

    Back to philosphers, this would seem to make those people who want to erase binary opposites and those whose only sense of morality is the “harm principle” out of touch with the purposes of God and Man. What in these theories is the forbidden fruit in opposition to eternal life? It isn’t clear but it would seem to be individual action against the social order which is inimical to the point of existence which is individual choice.

    The point is given in verse 26 “And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

    This is completely consonant with both the idea of the universe as being based on eternal laws independent of social relations and with individual concepts of liberty as it gets. For the life of me I can’t figure out why Jeff G. wants to put things back into an ancient framework of social relations.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 8:37 am

  24. SilverRain,
    Out of everyone I’ve read in the Bloggernacle, your comments touch me as being the most wholesomely human. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 8:54 am

  25. Mark,

    “What possible reason could God have for punishing anyone except to reform and deter? The idea that there is some sort of cosmic balance that requires ex post facto suffering by the first party or a third party for a sin committed by the first party, little Johnny taking a whipping for littler Johnny style, is perverse.”

    There are a couple responses to your comment:

    1) You have merely asserted your position, providing no more support than a series of rhetorical questions and misrepresentations (I never said innocent blood is necessary for atonement, even if it will – and did – do the job).

    2) The idea that somebody “needs to pay” for some offense is itself very close to the position that I advocate. Such a claim basically asserts that a moral order must be restored or healed through punishment/suffering. The primary difference is that we are not accustomed to associating this moral order with a particular person, seeing the abstract moral order rather than an individual person as sovereign. Premoderns, by contrast, would find such a concrete, personified sovereignty quite natural.

    3) I am not fully committed to this being a model that we need to currently endorse and defend today. The whole point of continuing revelation is to alter how we look at things. Rather, my main point is that this is essentially how the vast majority of scriptural authors understood the atonement. I already mentioned above how many curiosities, statements and practices from the past effortlessly cohere within such a perspective. Put differently, I think this Foucaultian reading of divine justice is helpful, but not binding.

    4) While I do not want to fall into the same mistake as you by assuming that I have exhausted all alternatives, I simply fail to see many alternatives. I thus offer a standing challenge for anybody to provide a real life understanding of justice that some community in general has actually accepted (a community within scriptural times would be ideal), an understanding that would explain the “demands of justice” as we find them in the scriptures. Foucault names three real life, historical understandings of justice and nobody has even attempted to refute my arguments against the two that I do not find within the scriptures. But simply expressing a distaste for the third model (not to be confused with actually arguing against it) does not provide any support at all for some alternative.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 9:00 am

  26. Martin,

    “For the life of me I can’t figure out why Jeff G. wants to put things back into an ancient framework of social relations.”


    You can’t see any use in understanding the mental framework from which the scriptural authors wrote? The fact that our modern understandings are not timeless and inevitable isn’t relevant at all?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 9:26 am

  27. Jeff G.,
    What sense does it make to naturalize an understanding of the supernatural by comparing it to naturally existing social relations other than to make God a social construct?

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 9:27 am

  28. Thank you, Martin. If only my daily practice could perfectly mesh with my understanding, I’d be on to something.

    But I’m glad that it speaks to you.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 11, 2016 @ 9:34 am

  29. I do like that you are talking about mental constructs though. I agree that all of this relies on a constellation of words like sin, punishment, atonement, God, fall, mercy, justice, salvation, redemption that are not easy determine a meaning for. For example, I’m not sure what Mark D. means by punishment as compared to absence from God etc. If punishment is just absence from God, Jesus’s suffering is a bit of a paradox.
    You seem to be saying that all of this makes more sense if we put it back in a pre-modern framework. I can understand that both intellectually and religiously. Where we differ is that I think that minimizes the particularly mormon ways that modern scripture understands these terms.
    You seem to think that the big gain to mormonism is just a return to premodern notions of authority and covenant relations. I want to claim that the big gain of mormonism was Joseph Smiths’s metaphysics and its unification with physics through truth. You think post-modern doubting of this connection is on the side of LDS religious truth by raising authority and I think it undermines LDS theology by undermining the univocality of truth.
    If you can walk me through how second Nephi and the Doctrine and Covenants make more sense from an ancient context than the references to eternal and unchanging truth like “for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”
    Whatever the atonement is, I can’t understand those scriptures without the atonement being something other than our limited understandings of it. It seems to be reversing the order to say, we can understand something transcendent better but understanding better how people in the past understood it. It is possible that this is right and that ancient societies were more like God’s society but that seems too conflicting with all the ways LDS scripture talks about progress and knowledge as coming from God.
    There’s not enough latter day in this type of Sainthood for me. It doesn’t incorporate enough of what we know today. The core issue for me is whether modern forms of knowledge are from the devil or from God. You make the enlightenment thinkers the bad guys against religion in many ways, but that seems totally out of step with our tradition of the enlightenment’s influence on the constitution, liberty and law that are seen as a gift from God for his people in the latter days.
    There is not enough connection in your thinking to the one third of the hosts of heaven and their plans. Too little difference between the church and state in your ideas of justice to recognize that God’s justice and our social rules are not at all the same thing. God’s plan needs sin in a way our social rules don’t need crime.
    I admit that I don’t have a good answer on what we use to understand the words in scripture but since we know God’s ways and man’s ways aren’t the same, I see no reason to use explanations of social relations to illuminate our understanding of divine justice. Yes, we can say it is a typology with just a different authority but it is doesn’t capture enough for me.
    But I’ll give it another try if I can understand how it helps understand this question. What is the equivalent of the knowledge of Good and Evil and lost innocence in your models of justice?

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 10:02 am

  30. Jeff (20) how do you distinguish between what’s an analogy trying to convey a complex subject to relatively uneducated people versus an accurate description of what is going on? That is there seems to be some deep hermeneutic questions here about how you read passages and passages that describe the atonement in a different way.

    Given that there appear to be many ways the atonement is described, why pick one above the other? What’s your criteria?

    Comment by Clark — February 11, 2016 @ 10:20 am

  31. Just to add, the whole “mercy rob justice” bit in the Book of Mormon is often read in terms of Calvin who I think ends up being closest to what you’re discussing. It’s just not at all clear to me that those passages should be read through a Calvinistic or even Thomist reading. i.e. satisfaction theory of atonement of some sort even if tied more to kingship rather than individual sin.

    The idea that God has been lessened and that ought to be the focus of the atonement rather than consequences or souls seems disturbing to me I must confess. Further trying to understand its necessity politically in the divine order escapes me. It makes some sense in more feudalistic societies, especially in the Europe Foucault is focused on. But there are very good reasons why those ways of thinking don’t apply – not the least being their ineffectiveness.

    Comment by Clark — February 11, 2016 @ 10:30 am

  32. Martin,

    “What sense does it make to naturalize an understanding of the supernatural by comparing it to naturally existing social relations other than to make God a social construct?”

    I see a few problems with this.

    1) The natural/supernatural distinction is itself a modern invention which you are projecting onto the issue. For premoderns there was no deep difference between “natural” and “supernatural” lords and kings.

    2) I don’t see how I’m naturalizing anything at all. I’m simply showing how people, actual historical people, understood various concepts. This says nothing at all about the metaphysical status of any person or thing.

    3) You seem to be following the Feuerbachian assumption that ideas of religious persons and practices are based upon or projections from secular persons and practices. I do, however, leave open the possibility that secular practice are actually based on religious truths. This is definitely how the premoderns understood things. Ironically enough, I am actually accusing moderns of projecting their current secular understandings onto their religious ideas when, if any such secular understandings should be so projected it is those of antiquity. To be honest, however, I don’t think it matters whether the secular cart or the religious horse came first, historically or logically speaking, since I am merely describing words, concepts and practices that were, quite obviously, employed within both religious and secular contexts, as they would come to be called.

    “Where we differ is that I think that minimizes the particularly mormon ways that modern scripture understands these terms.”

    I do acknowledge that there is – to some extent – some liberal elements within the D&C. (The BoM to a lesser extent, it seems.) Even then, however, I suggest that understanding these liberal elements as being layered upon or adaptations to a premodern mindset, rather than as modification to our modern and unequivocally post-enlightenment understandings is the better path to understanding.

    This post is itself a perfect example of the differences between these two approaches. By attempting to read a utilitarian calculus of justice into the atonement, we are left with nothing but confusion. If, however, we see SR’s expressions (which we both appreciate and admire) as developments upon the ancient model so many concepts suddenly cohere.

    “I want to claim that the big gain of mormonism was Joseph Smiths’s metaphysics and its unification with physics through truth.”

    I used to agree with this, but no more. Frankly, who cares what modern physicists say? Such statements are rather transparent expressions of a secular scientism that leads all too many (myself included) out of the church.

    “for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

    This passage actually favors an ancient understanding since all such modern understandings would thus be a historical departure from a timeless spirit. Are you sure you don’t want to modify your own reading of this passage?

    “You make the enlightenment thinkers the bad guys against religion in many ways”

    Actually, they did this to themselves and quite self-consciously so. They rejected ALL revelation. They rejected ALL priesthood authority. They rejected ALL appeals to scripture. If this isn’t a rejection of Mormonism, I don’t know what is.

    “since we know God’s ways and man’s ways aren’t the same, I see no reason to use explanations of social relations to illuminate our understanding of divine justice”

    I’m quite okay with this, so long as it applies to your own thinking as much as it does mine. Indeed, applied consistently, this sounds like a sounding cry for the very anti-intellectualism that you rejected a couple sentence prior. Something tells me, however, that you are perfectly okay with using physicists and those to strive to imitate them “to illuminate our understanding” of God. But this, to me, sounds more like political ideology than anything else.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 10:43 am

  33. Clark,

    “Jeff (20) how do you distinguish between what’s an analogy trying to convey a complex subject to relatively uneducated people versus an accurate description of what is going on?”

    I totally reject the idea that the gospel is actually some deep, theoretical apparatus that needs to be dumbed down to the uneducated. Foucault is simply describing how people spoke and practiced. To insist that there is actually some abstract idea that such things attempted (imperfectly) to describe or articulate is a metaphysical assumption that I see little use for.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 10:54 am

  34. “What is the equivalent of the knowledge of Good and Evil and lost innocence in your models of justice?”

    I am anti-intellectual from the point of view that I don’t think reason tells us good from evil. I’m just profoundly individualist in that I think our knowledge of good and evil comes to our individual conscience.

    The point of reason and intellectualism is for us to better have the joy of acting upon things in righteousness.

    It is your socializing and of knowledge and truth that I find repugnant not the anti-intellectual component. just because I don’t find it social doesn’t mean that I don’t find it material. The only connection I see to the body in this thinking is social.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 11:10 am

  35. ” To insist that there is actually some abstract idea that such things attempted (imperfectly) to describe or articulate is a metaphysical assumption that I see little use for.”

    So, how do we understand how we get the knowledge of Good and Evil without a metaphysics of Good and Evil?

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 11:15 am

  36. Or from an ancient point of view (I think), what makes the true God the real God, compared to all the other Lords and Kings?

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 11:25 am

  37. “It is your socializing and of knowledge and truth that I find repugnant not the anti-intellectual component. just because I don’t find it social doesn’t mean that I don’t find it material.”

    These are exactly the political ideology of which I spoke: an over the top individualism that follows from the physicists’ materialism. Hobbes is the prophet that you are following.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 11:27 am

  38. “Or from an ancient point of view (I think), what makes the true God the real God, compared to all the other Lords and Kings?”

    Because its YOUR god or YOUR king. Furthermore, Jesus is the king of kings. The basic answer is the chain of being.

    In the end, I despise the approach where, unless I can answer every single question that we can think of, my model is garbage.

    I claim that my model answers more questions or perhaps different questions than the alternatives. That should be good enough.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 11:35 am

  39. At least I’m quoting Lehi not Foucault. All these mormon kids getting infected by catholic social ideas is tragic.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 11:39 am

  40. OK, time to make peace. I’m not saying your model is garbage and it does illuminate many mormon ideas on authority and obedience. I’m blaming you for LDS young people becoming more ecumenical religiously. Not your fault but the return to antiquity the way you are doing it raises my fear of the lost distinction of the mormon way of being that is being homogenized out of existence.
    Our biggest source of agreement is that secular morality is not our morality. I think we are on the same team but describing different dangerous paths away from religious truth. You see the danger of scientism as being primary. I see the danger of subsuming conscience to society as being the danger. Both authority and conscience are important and both religious authority and the pricks of the spirit are useful tools.
    Thanks for the posts.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 11:46 am

  41. But your quoting Lehi is completely beside the point.

    I am offering a different, premodern perspective from which to read Lehi and all you are doing is simply reasserting the recieve, modern perspective while at the same time pretending that this modern perspective and Lehi’s are one and the same.

    Put differently, your merely quoting Lehi (I have no clue what the passage is supposed to prove anyhow) does nothing to prioritize a modern reading over a premodern reading of that quote.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 11:48 am

  42. Oops. Your 40 had not published when I wrote 41.

    I would agree that I am more worried about Mormon becoming homogenized with modern, secular practices, while you are more worried about it becoming so with premodern, largely catholic practices. I think it’s also safe to say that we both want neither one of these things to happen.

    In my experience, we lose far more members to the church and the bloggernacle to (some variant of) atheism than we do to (some variant of) catholicism. That, to me, justifies me method within the current context.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 11:52 am

  43. I wish there were more defenders of the LDS version of progressive, liberal social order which is voluntarily patriarchal and familial, yet modest, wholesome and supportive of uses of secular knowledge. I don’t think a political ideology of a libertarianism nor a catholic law tradition are a good response to the secular forces of the left.
    It seems to be a tough sell these days. I want to see civil rights and political equality but as being part of what God gave us as a good thing in the latter days that would have been impossible without Christian conscience. I want us firmly within the tradition of appeals to our worse and better angels. Neither original sin nor a vicious social order. Do you see a little bit how agency doesn’t seem to fit completely with the ancient social model? Maybe I do see the vote in heaven as a Hobbesian choice and have my own compromises with ecumenicalism and secularity but they are my brothers and sisters.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 12:17 pm

  44. Jeff (33) then how do you account for the very different treatments of the atonement? It seems to me you’re saying that there is a master narrative that is correct in the expressed details with little metaphor behind it. Further that even if not exhaustive it is fairly complete in terms of what it describes.

    I confess I don’t see that textually. It might be helpful if you could be more specific about what texts you are referring to and why you privilege those texts over other scriptural texts.

    The “it’s all analogies” is usually a conclusion arrived at to explain how to deal with the different narratives we have (and the obvious questions concerning them)

    Comment by Clark — February 11, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

  45. Martin (39), the Foucault I believe Jeff is referring to is the atheist one from the 20th century. He adopts largely Nietzschean ideas (with some Hegel) to critique certain narratives about power.

    That said I do think if we’re going to make religious claims that we deal with religious texts rather than philosophical ones.

    Jeff (41) could you be more explicit in how you read Lehi? (I assume you mean 2 Ne 2 since that’s what the rest of us are referring to) Also how do you deal with different descriptions elsewhere?

    I’m also dubious there is a single “pre-modern” reading of that passage. Again we should be careful since Aquinas counts as a pre-modern in all this.

    If you’re arguing for a way Jews might have read it then we have a bit of a problem since that’s not an univocal community. Further most of the communities we have information on are post-exilic and not necessarily informative of how Lehi viewed things.

    Comment by Clark — February 11, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

  46. Jeff (42) I’m skeptical of us losing more to secular. From the surveys I’ve seen it’s about half and half to secularism as to other religions. (Not necessarily Catholicism admittedly) In any case even if we were losing more to secularism that isn’t necessarily an argument to adopt a Catholic stance since clearly that’s not persuasive to people. Understanding why secularism is persuasive is perhaps more to the task.

    Comment by Clark — February 11, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

  47. Clark,

    I just don’t see the point that everybody wants to make with 2 Nephi. The idea that any of the three models precludes “agency” strikes me as extraordinarily suspect.

    Foucault’s understanding of agency should be read in light of his teacher, Louis Althusser, who thought that “subjectivity” was a dual pronged concept that constituted both one’s agency (in the individualistic sense), on the one hand, and one’s subservient allegiance to the moral order (as in the king’s subjects) – each one of these concepts mutually implicating the other. He thus thought that subjectivity/agency is strictly ideological in nature in the sense of being un-scientific, but not necessarily false for that reason either. This, to me, sounds very similar to the Mormon idea of agency as something that could have been, but wasn’t taken from us such that we are left to willingly submit to the Lord and His teachings.

    Thus, when Martin says the following, he is mistaken at a very deep level:

    “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.”

    There is nothing like this in the social theories of the law. There is not a requirement to choose as an individual as being the point of existence.

    Foucault is, following his teacher, very suspicious of subjectivity, seeing it as playing too many roles of domination (this roots of this word are closely related to “lord”) within the old forms of punishment and (to some extent) the new forms of discipline. He thus seeks to explore the social practices associated with agency-talk while at the same time resisting the temptation to treat agency as an explanation in and of itself. Indeed, part of his preference for the utilitarian, reformist model (that I find totally incompatible with the gospel) is that subjective agency plays little, if any practical role in the system. Thus, I see Lehi’s speech connecting our ability to choose, the demands of justice and God’s (possibly) ceasing to be God with the atonement as part and parcel with Foucault’s first model of justice.

    Similarly, I follow Foucault in being suspicious of Martin’s appeals to laws that sideline all considerations of who gives and who enforces such laws, as if they were the real god that we should be worshiping instead of our Heavenly Father. But this is exactly what we would expect from people who take physics as the paradigmatic example of truth.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

  48. Clark (46),

    You’re right that I should have been clearer. I think Martin understood me as speaking of hierarchical religions that are similar to traditional Catholicism (I do not defend Catholicism, but there are similarities). Most of the churches to which we lose members, I suspect, would, if anything, lie closer to the secular ideals of the enlightenment in their universal priesthood, etc. Most likely, however, it would be unwise to force these other churches into either of these camps.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 1:06 pm

  49. Just a note Jeff, I’m not addressing Martin’s use of Lehi. I’ll leave him to defend that. I was more just trying to get you to be more explicit in your exegesis for your reading for this more Foucault issue.

    As I said I read them all as somewhat flawed allegories primarily due to the number of allegory in scripture and seeing no way to decide among them.

    Comment by Clark — February 11, 2016 @ 1:15 pm

  50. Martin,
    I think you are minimizing the “knowledge” component necessary to be in a position of having agency. I think you should be suspicious of agreeing with Foucault, the atheist. I think we are exactly what Foucault describes except we like it rather than disliking it.

    Similarly, I follow Foucault in being suspicious of Martin’s appeals to laws that sideline all considerations of who gives and who enforces such laws, as if they were the real god that we should be worshiping instead of our Heavenly Father. But this is exactly what we would expect from people who take physics as the paradigmatic example of truth.

    Let’s consider the temple recommend questions and ask ourselves which model is best represented by those questions. None of them require worship of God and many of them are about discipline and laws.

    I’m not saying that decides the matter but I don’t see anywhere where one needs to worship God that isn’t consistent with him playing a role under a certain set of rules external to him. Wasn’t there an internet survey where it was about 80/20 with mormons thinking God is God because he obeyed laws external to him.

    I keep telling you that I think conscience is the paradigmatic example of truth and you keep saying that is my ideology talking even though you yourself admit it is the ultimate arbiter of how one determines who has the authority.

    It is not scientism to think God plays by rules he didn’t create. It just doesn’t seem to me that you use the terms intelligences and knowledge that much in your model and pre-mortal existence that much in your model.

    As for 2nd Nephi there are several points. One is that it is clearly an equilibrium or balancing model where individual misery and happiness are balanced not sovereignty.

    The second is the focus on the process that happens before one gets knowledge of good and evil. The three models you propose focus on the unjust act and don’t say much about the capacity for understanding what is just and unjust.

    You don’t see the connection to these theories but it seems the burden should be to show how these secular theories apply to the Book of Mormon case.

    It should easy to show but you keep skipping that question in your replies.

    It is not a coincidence that the church was restored where people believed Europe was a place of decadent religions.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 1:42 pm

  51. Clark,
    I think we lose people, especially young people because they don’t see the power of the gospel in action to help us act upon things rather than be acted upon. We have a hard time admitting that our unrighteousness is limiting our spirituality. We admit that for others but don’t hold ourselves to the highest standards. We aren’t living up to the expansiveness of the doctrine, which practice the young are confusing with bad doctrine.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 1:52 pm

  52. “Similarly, I follow Foucault in being suspicious of Martin’s appeals to laws that sideline all considerations of who gives and who enforces such laws, as if they were the real god that we should be worshiping instead of our Heavenly Father.”

    I don’t see what is wrong with a simple debt model based on contract law not criminal law. I sin creates a debt. Jesus pays the debt, thanks be to Jesus. What part of that makes one a worshiper of contracts rather than Jesus?

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 2:15 pm

  53. Martin,

    Almost all of your conceptions of contract/law/morality, etc. derive from the 18th century abstractions with an extremely political bias/motivation, namely the rise of the moneyed class and their theologians the economists against the landed aristocracy and their traditional theologians. Marx isn’t right about everything, but he most definitely is right about those theorists who proclaim their own abstractions and interests as static and non-negotiable laws of nature.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 2:46 pm

  54. Dude, what do you think the white shirts are for?

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

  55. “Almost all of your conceptions of contract/law/morality, etc. derive from the 18th century abstractions with an extremely political bias/motivation, namely the rise of the moneyed class and their theologians the economists against the landed aristocracy and their traditional theologians.”

    What you are saying is that I’m mormon. We love America and hate those @#!%@s.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

  56. But to heck with what I think, I still want to know how your theories explain what the knowledge of good and evil is and where it comes from.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

  57. Easy. From God.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

  58. Partaking of the fruit is eating God, how sacramental of you. You win.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

  59. You seem upset that an empirico-historical method does not adequately describe the pre-existence and garden of Eden. If that’s your standard, then we should definitely throw physics out as well.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 4:23 pm

  60. I concede that “real physics” is behind the veil and in that sense thrown out. The question is how much of the fall is on this side of the veil or the other and how much of what an intelligence is changes pre and post mortality.
    I’m not wanting to say physics explains the atonement, I’m wanting to say our only access to atonement is through conscience and the point of religion is remove our conscience from society. This is why I’m so threatened by socializing conscience via authority. I understand that the risk then shifts to personal self-righteousness from social self-righteousness. I’m way more afraid of moral bullies than moral slackers.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 5:14 pm

  61. Think of it this way. The evil voice that tell us to eat, drink and be merry and to be selfish eventually is contradicted by our experience of addiction, loneliness and depravity. But the evil voice that tells us we are doing God’s will and are his elect while we are ignoring the poor and not feeding the widow, there is no protection for that when it gets socialized except for the prophets that given us a last warning about pride.
    This is why I think we need to concede that our warning system didn’t work that well in the case of slavery, for example, but it did eventually work and the replacement of secularity is no warning system at all.
    I think we over-emphasize our righteous versus the world and under-emphasize that at least our goal is righteousness. The weakness of secularism is not that it is automatically less righteous but that it doesn’t have righteousness as a goal nor systematic methods of re-orienting to righteousness. There is no atonement for states, even when they need it.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 5:28 pm

  62. “our only access to atonement is through conscience”

    So we should all just stop talking about it altogether, since words give us no access to it?

    So long as words give us access, my post holds.

    I also fail to see how ignoring the social context in which the scriptures were written somehow protects us from moral bullies.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

  63. I’ve admitted that your perspective helps from the point of view that listening to prophets and obeying authority helps the conscience function and keeps us righteous.
    Similar to how you privilege current prophets above scriptures, I privilege the more recent scriptures and modern notions of conscience they were written for.
    The approaches you mention don’t seem to have the progressive mormon spirit of latter day saint scripture and practices to me but I’m not saying they are useless or unhelpful. This lack of mormon specificity plus the fact that they don’t differentiate enough between legitimate and illegitimate authority in ancient times enough for me. If you could show me how Foucault distinguishes justice between the ancient good guys (Abraham) and the ancient bad guys (Pharaoh) it would make more sense. It seems more likely to me that the ancient’s understanding was just as limited as ours was so it doesn’t help us that much.
    As for words, when I ask about how we tell the difference between a sin and breaking the law, it seems like the answer you give me is that the difference is just which authority it is God or the state. To me that is analogizing in a way that inappropriately minimizes the difference between God and man. You didn’t take us my malum in se versus malum prohibitum distinction but my instinct is that you think the only difference is that malum per se is God’s malum prohibitum. I admit it is not an argument but this feels like sacrilege to me. I get that you think I’m substituting my favorite time period’s understanding for yours but I don’t see the modern prophets rejecting modern notions things the way you do which factors into why it feels that way to me. it seems like modern prophets are always describing ancient prophets like the guy next door, people just like us, rather than emphasizing their ancient notions and social situations. Again, that is not a argument against your approach just why its “mormonyness” quotient is low for me.
    The ancient social context helps the most when it shows how much the ancient prophets were always fighting an uphill battle against the cultures they lived in. They were underdogs in a way that protects us against bullies and kings and rulers in a way that your models seem to want to make peace with.
    But this is all ground we have plowed before. It still seems cheating to me to use modern notions of ancient societies to things but I can’t prove it. Dangerous game that type of jujutsu.

    I prefer this type of homely opium of the masses
    “When the fam’ly gets together, after evening work is done, Then we learn to know each other, popping corn and having fun. Then our father tells a story, mother leads us in a song, And it seems that nothing in this world could possibly go wrong.”

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

  64. I have to admit that you get serious under dog points for taking on the enlightenment. Keeps me reading!

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 6:37 pm

  65. Just remember that being enemies of the enlightenment doesn’t make those philosophers your friend.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 6:41 pm

  66. Two things:

    1) God’s sovereignty over us is hugely asymmetrical, but not unilateral. No doubt, good/evil are products of an inter-subjective process. While I’m pretty agnostic on the this particulars, I tend toward Ostler’s idea of a community of gods choosing one god to rule over us. What I am committed to is that good/evil are constrained by social relations, not eternally existing forms that just are. In other words, they are nothing like physics.

    2) I fully agree that the counter-enlightenment thinkers are not my friends. They are a means to an end: that being the availability of options. I’m primarily concerned with freeing people from the dogmatic slumber which the enlightenment values have foisted upon us. Only with the availability of viable alternatives can we truly consider ourselves free and in control of our choices.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 11, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

  67. Amen to that. We need more ways to think of things not fewer. Not that much rides on it being external for me as long as the social relations allow me to think of it as external. I’m also not opposed to other people thinking of it is social for their individual use but I’ll resist an exclusive claim to it being social. Truth and knowledge are just biased for me as external. I don’t know how to use them other than that way. I don’t think this is just a modern bias but it may be a philosophical one.

    Comment by Martin James — February 11, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

  68. Jeff,

    I have not read through all the comments, but I want to say that this rings true to me in an Old Testamenty kind of way. It does explain a lot of things – animal sacrifices, harsh penalties for sabbath observance, ‘not my will but thine’, broken hearts and contrite spirits, etc. all pointing to sustaining the sovereignty of God. If we can get past the accusations of vanity, I think there are some great insights here. Let me know if you think I am on the wrong track.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — February 12, 2016 @ 9:46 am

  69. Jeff (66) there are elements of Blake’s theory I really like. His emphasis on relations and being maximally related seems a strong part of traditional Mormon thinking. That said I’m a tad more skeptical of his throwing off the King Follet Discourse and related ideas. I also think there are issues saying, “it’s social relations all the way down” the way some (not necessarily Blake) have done.

    Who do you mean by “counter-enlightenment thinkers”?

    Martin (51) I think seeing the gospel in action is significantly why many leave. Not just practical charity, but rather faith, priesthood, and most importantly the spirit. But even when those are taught people fall away. A strong testimony hinges on the reality of the Holy Ghost as an experience though.

    Comment by Clark — February 12, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

  70. Clark, you said “I think seeing the gospel in action is significantly why many leave.”
    What kind of examples are you thinking of?

    Comment by Martin James — February 12, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

  71. Clark,

    It’s a phrase that can be traced back through Isaiah Berlin to Nietzsche. The Wikipedia article is a pretty good intro:


    Comment by Jeff G — February 12, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

  72. Martin, I was mainly thinking of people raised in the church who aren’t taught to feel and recognize the spirit and most importantly utilize it. Heaven knows many members – perhaps a goodly portion – live more in terms of social norms rather than living by the spirit. When that’s your basis then ones house is built on sand and it won’t take much of a storm to lead one away.

    Jeff, OK. I wasn’t sure if that was what you meant (following Nietzsche on 19th century figures) or if you more meant late 20th century postmodernists.

    Comment by Clark — February 12, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

  73. Berlin does see them as a continuation of the counter enlightenment, but his focus lies a bit further in the past.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 12, 2016 @ 9:26 pm

  74. This was a really good post Jeff, and I think its fascinating that justice is meant to restore the sovereignty of God, and that therein lies the essential nature of justice within the calculus of the atonement. I think that is a better interpretation than those based on the other two.

    My own interpretation, which I borrowed from Jung’s Answer to Job, turns this Foucaultian reading on its head: The Atonement ITSELF restores the sovereignty of God which has been violated by God when He inflicted unjust suffering upon His creation. This is not an explicitly scriptural reading, but it is implicit in the question of the Book of Job, and God’s inability to answer Job, as well as Jesus phrase “forgive them, for they know not what they do” which implies that His murderers are forgiven, not because of His sacrifice, but because of Jesus’ increased empathy and understanding, which came from HIS experience of the atonement. Christ clearly sees: “those who murder you think they are doing God a service.” God was the one who commanded them to murder blasphemers.

    The Foucaultian reading that God’s sovereignty is violated by disobedience, should be understood that the APPEARANCE of God’s sovereignty is violated. For how can sin in and of itself violate God’s sovereignty? After all, He Himself uses Satan to tempt Eve. But to keep us “in fear and trembling,” Rather God punishes sin through the condemnation of His church, in order to bolster His authority through the medium of His church. Apart from the church, those who violate universal laws are subject to the natural consequences of those laws, e. g. “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” there is no need for God to get involved. His sovereignty is not violated, and the consequences of sin work themselves out.

    Comment by Nate — February 15, 2016 @ 9:31 am

  75. Off topic, but score one for Jeff G.’s theory of the laity’s ability to criticize the brethren:

    “Less than a year ago, right here in Washington, DC, my friend killed himself. He was Mormon and gay. You’ve gone on record that the church does not give apologies. Does religious freedom absolve you from responsibility in the gay Mormon suicide crisis?” asked Evans.

    “That’s a question that will be answered on judgment day,” Oaks responded. “I will be accountable to a higher authority for that.”

    Which sounds incredibly similar to both Jeff’s theory and the divine right of kings:

    As a sinner I am truly conscious of having often offended my Creator and I beg him to forgive me, but as a Queen and Sovereign, I am aware of no fault or offence for which I have to render account to anyone here below.

    –Mary, queen of Scots

    Comment by Nate W. — February 16, 2016 @ 1:56 pm

  76. Jeff G,
    You mentioned in a comment that I can’t find “that it isn’t all like physics”.
    I’ve finally been able to come up with a way of expressing my concern with the dividing up of righteousness from physics. One aspect of the concern is that faith and righteous in the LDS tradition gives one power over the elements in a way that IS physics. In other words, the ability to perform miracles. I don’t know whether that is consistent with our physics or not, I’m just that there is a connection in our tradition between faith and physical power.
    What concern me about saying it is not like physics is that is would seem to disconnect moral knowledge from physical power.
    What are your beliefs about the connection between faith and miracles?

    Comment by Martin James — February 16, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

  77. Martin, could you explain this?

    I know there’s a tradition which I think has its origin in the Pratts, that the laws of physics arise because the elements obey God. Thus faith allows us a power of persuasion to violate physics. I confess while I loved that idea way back in college I find it pretty problematic since.

    Is that the idea you mean?

    Comment by Clark — February 16, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

  78. You assume a far stronger connection between an understanding modern physics and the manipulation of the material world than I think anybody could justify.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 16, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

  79. Clark,
    I’m not referring to any particular physics, I’m just referring to the connection of things to ourselves. It seems to me that Jeff wants to make the church mainly about morality and social behavior. I want it to be about more than that. I want it to be about things. I think there is a strong LDS tradition that Priesthood power is not just about a connection to others but a connection and power over things and that it is a sign of faith to have more power over things. This is a big part of what is unique about mormonism.
    I’d just understand the context of Jeff’s thrust if he told me what he thinks about moving mountains and walking on water for example. It doesn’t have much to do with modern physics, it has to do with faith giving us power over things.
    I think we find this stuff problematic because it is evidence that we lack faith because we are wicked as a people.

    Comment by Martin James — February 16, 2016 @ 7:15 pm

  80. I simply see no reason whatsoever to equate anything that physicists have said with “gospel truth”. Sure, they say lots of useful things, but I leave it there.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 16, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

  81. I think he’s more arguing that priesthood is technological in some sense. I’m not sure I agree beyond that I think there is matter in some sense with innate laws/structures. God manipulates that so his actions are technological in that sense rather than extra-natural. Priesthood in my eyes is just a way of getting God (or his servants) to do things for you.

    Comment by Clark — February 16, 2016 @ 8:36 pm

  82. Of course, Clark because it is about power. Power is about things and not just truth. It is about fruits, for example.

    Comment by Martin James — February 16, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

  83. I do reject the idea that priesthood is primarily about performing magic tricks and miracles. People can do those things without the priesthood. How that works, I couldn’t tell ya.

    There is a difference between the divine power and divine authority.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 16, 2016 @ 9:19 pm

  84. That came across as a tad bit condescending and dismissive of some very sacred stuff. Could be the enlightenment has disenchanted your worldview?

    Comment by Martin James — February 16, 2016 @ 10:08 pm

  85. Yeah, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Rather, I meant it in the traveling healer of the NT sort of way.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 16, 2016 @ 10:25 pm

  86. It’s an interesting question not well resolved in Mormonism exactly how using the priesthood to do something differs from a prayer of faith to do something. In both cases according to Mormon understanding it’s ultimately done by the priesthood. Yet there is some difference in terms of of the degree of command versus request that seems quite ill defined.

    Comment by Clark — February 16, 2016 @ 10:58 pm

  87. It is by faith that the world was created. Priesthood is the authority to perform ordinances, and it’s efficacy is independent of righteousness so long as the authority is granted.

    Faith is definitely predicated on righteousness. It is not authority. It is trust in God’s authority to the point that you are able to draw on it.

    How faith looks in eternity, when it becomes becomes a sure knowledge, I don’t yet know. But after this life, Priesthood represents actually becoming like God, rather than just a temporary bestowal of authority. I don’t think we have any real idea what that means in eternity, either.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 17, 2016 @ 4:43 am

  88. Its, not it’s….sorry.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 17, 2016 @ 4:43 am

  89. Martin,

    I thought about it some more and you’re right that there was some contempt in that comment of mine… but not for the priesthood or miracles. Rather, it was for the political ideology (and it is exactly that) that our being able to manipulate the world in bigger and neater ways is the most important thing in life. This liberal ideology (in the true, European sense) is the only way that priesthood as ability to manipulate reality could ever been seen as more important than the authority to command others.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 17, 2016 @ 8:45 am

  90. Physics is the reason why people suffer, and explains a great deal of the suffering that results from sin in particular. Theft, fraud, deceit, assault, abuse, and murder have an awful tendency to result in physical suffering in the victims. And if someone isn’t physically tormented, are they really tormented at all? Even if their torment was mental rather than physical in origin?

    So it would seem that the cardinal problem of any theory of the At-one-ment to explain is why it was or is necessary for Christ to suffer in both body and spirit to bring it about.

    The simplest explanation is that it is purely exemplary, i.e. neither Jesus nor anyone else needed to suffer anything, his death was merely an educational tool.

    Then there are a number of classical explanations that don’t make a great deal of sense in large part because that they proceed from the assumption that God cannot suffer and has the unconstrained ability to relieve all others from suffering without any consequences.

    Most LDS theories presume that God can suffer, and that in one sense or another He needs to.

    Another idea is that the suffering of Jesus on the cross has a real counterpart in the suffering of the Body of Christ as they follow his example. A distributed at-one-ment in other words. On that theory such passages as Christ suffered in both body and spirit have reference not only to the individual person of Jesus Christ, the Church as the body of Christ.

    If sin causes a wound in the body of Christ, suffering will result, and voluntary sacrifice (i.e. charity, the pure love of Christ) will be necessary to keep the body from disintegrating. Not just the sacrifice of members of the body here on earth, but those in heaven as well, indeed in God Himself by spiritual acquaintance.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 20, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

  91. The idea of the atonement as an educational tool seems wrong to me. It’s hard to reconcile to D&C 19 at minimum. It’s one big reason that the common Evangelical description of Mormons as pelegians is so wrong. We typically do see the atonement as something transfiguring in more than communication aiding psychology.

    The idea of the mutability of God certainly is a big difference between Mormons and most creedal Christians. I think you’re right this affects our idea about atonement.

    Comment by Clark — February 22, 2016 @ 12:17 pm