Friday, 21 March 2014

Speculations of a Theoretical Mormon



Speculations of a Theoretical Mormon
A mini-book of approximately 25,000 words

By Bruce G Charlton

This blog is intended mainly for Mormons, and is written from a (sort of) Mormon perspective - although I myself am only a Mormon believer, a purely theoretical Mormon; and I am not (at the time of writing this) baptised a member of the CJCLDS.

Here I have collected my main examples of Mormon themed blogging over the past few years, originally from:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/

...and put them into a sequence which can be copied, pasted then printed-out.

I hope they might prove enjoyable and useful.

(Note: New material added 10 June 2014)

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Mormonism – poised between incredibilities


Incredible: 1b - Hard to believe. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

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It strikes me that Mormonism is an incredible religion, in the two-sided sense that it both hard to believe and hard not to believe!

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I realize that to most non-Mormons this is untrue - in the sense that they find Mormonism one-sidedly hard to believe and easy to disbelieve - hard to accept and extremely easy to dismiss.

But, when not due to sheer ignorance, that attitude is often due to them being blinded by negative prejudice; because there are remarkable facts about Mormonism which it is hard to believe are not due to its being true.

There are at least four two-sidedly incredible aspects of Mormonism - that is they are both hard to believe, and hard not to believe.

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1. Joseph Smith.

On the one hand, it is hard to believe that such an ordinary and flawed person as Joseph Smith should have been a prophet of God; on the other hand it is hard to believe that anybody except a prophet of God could have done what he did.

2. The book of Mormon

On the one hand, the convoluted story of how the book of Mormon came to be written is bizarre, unprecedented - in a word incredible; on the other hand, it is very hard to believe that a book of such length, quality, complexity could have been dictated verbatim, serially and unrevised in extremely difficult conditions and in just a few months (and by Joseph Smith – see point 1.).

3. The organization of the LDS church

On the one hand, the piecemeal emergence of the Mormon church, the adoption of elements from various traditions (including Freemasonry), the revisions and corrections of doctrine and so on - all seem like ad hoc improvisations and strain credibility as being a consequence of divine guidance; on the other hand, the results were incredible in the sense of astonishingly efficacious: a church which commanded great strength and devoutness, which changes inner lives and outer behaviour, and which expanded exponentially for 180 years - somehow successfully scaling-up from a few hundreds to many millions of adherents.

4. Mormon theology

This contradicts or adds-to so much of the theology of the historical Christian church, and does this so profoundly as to amount to a different set of metaphysical assumptions concerning the basic structure of reality, that it is very hard to believe that almost all Christians could have been so wrong about so many things for such a long time; but on the other hand, the Mormon theology is so simple, systematic and also Biblically-coherent that it is incredible that Christians could have failed to discover it for so many centuries.

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I could go on - but I hope the point has been made that if Mormonism is given its due, then incredibilities abound, and are rather exactly poised!

It is incredible that something as incredible as Mormonism could be true: it is also incredible that something as coherent, as long-term successful, and as good as Mormonism could be false.

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What’s wrong with Christian Heresies?

The problem with Christian heresies is almost exclusively a problem with intellectuals, especially professionals.

(Of course, the main problem is determining who is the heretic; since both sides almost-always claim to be ‘orthodox’.)

But, to take the example I know most about, Mormons could be regarded as a Christian heresy – yet, even if fully acknowledged as a heresy - what is the problem with that?

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The problem relates to several of the second-order aspects of Christian doctrine: it is mostly a matter of theology.

Because in terms of actual behaviour, Mormons are pretty much indistinguishable from other types of Christian except that they are more devout than average Christians (i.e. more 'Christian' in their behaviour, to use common language).

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But Mormons have no professional priesthood (or, more exactly, a trivially small proportion of professionals, who are nonetheless very important), so a comprehensive and consistent theology is of little importance to them; and non-obvious theological limitations (or heresies) - incompleteness, contradictions... have little impact.

At least, I find it difficult to observe any particular problems which have arisen from Mormon theology over the past 180 years.

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The main thing about Mormon theology is that the heretical aspects arise because Mormon theology is very concrete (not abstract); very narrative and time-bound (not focused on systems nor concerned with timeless (outside-of-time) 'eternity'); very close-up and personal (not philosophical).

Mormon 'heresies' are therefore not so much deliberate deviations from mainstream Christian orthodoxies, as (mostly, but not entirely) the natural consequences of re-expressing Christianity in concrete and temporal fashion for the plain man.

Mormon theology is intrinsically realistic, personal and story-book in style and concepts, and it could not express the subtleties of Catholic theology, even if it set out to do so - which (of course!) it does not.

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For example, instead of the abstract, mystical, intricate, paradoxical (or at least superficially self-contradictory) conception of the Holy Trinity (e.g. as expressed in the Athanasian Creed), Mormons have God the Father and Son as separate actual personages.

From a theological perspective, this is heretical and incorrect; but the accurate mainstream Christian conception of the Trinity is - well - very difficult to understand; very abstract, very mystical – just incomprehensible.

And without a professional priesthood, and a few hundred years of professional theology, this kind of abstract conception cannot ever develop or survive.

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My point: there have been gross and deliberate heresies which must be resisted (such as Gnosticism or Arianism or Unitarianism); but many heresies are more like re-expressions; and the people who are at risk from heresies are therefore intellectuals and religious professionals – but for plain and simple folk (and children) most heresies don’t matter – and are less harmful by far than the controversies about heresies. .

Indeed, for intellectuals and religious professionals, there is no form of orthodox Christianity which is heresy-proof - intellectuals can make anything into a heresy, and lead others down the path.

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A heresy is somewhat like a fork in the road - but some heresies fork-off then go in-parallel with the main road and have frequent crossings-between; other heresies lead further and further away from the truth.

Looking back to 1830 when Mormonism was founded, we can see that it has not 'strayed' far or indeed significantly, and (except theologically) it does not look as if there are any really significant barriers between Mormonism and orthodox traditional Christianity (unless people want there to be barriers - which clearly many intellectuals do want).

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But orthodox traditional Christians are (in terms of power) no longer ‘the mainstream’.

Liberal Christianity, which began to develop at about the same time as Mormonism, was not obviously a heresy for many years. Indeed, since it has captured almost all of the intellectuals and theologians and professionals in religion, Liberal Christianity sees itself as the mainstream.

Yet, Liberal Christianity has - from heresies so subtle as to be hardly perceptible for many decades, heresies embraced by the many or most of the leading theologians and intellectuals, by now diverged so far away from tradition and orthodoxy that it rejects all of Christian history up until a few decades ago; it also rejects paganism (Natural Law) and has nothing in common with any other major religion.



Lineal Christianity took a road fork which diverged ever further from the truth – and it is now apostate, not Christian indeed anti-Christian.

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So there is this about heresy: that heresy which seems clear and gross from a theological perspective may turn out to be of trivial significance, indeed have some very obvious benefits - while subtle heresy may lead to a situation indistinguishable from explicit apostasy.

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The main lesson is that theology is not Christianity; and that for most Christians throughout history and around the world, their 'theology' is necessarily very simple, concrete, common-sensical and story-like - and therefore (from a philosophical perspective) necessarily incomplete, inconsistent and inaccurate.

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How much does this matter?

Wrong theology may lead a Christian significantly far astray - but not necessarily. And perhaps it is seldom the wrong theology which does the leading astray; the problem comes when the desire to stray distorts theology, and the resulting distortion may be very subtle indeed - imperceptible, at first, from the intrinsic inconsistency of human affairs.

But a simple Christian with incorrect theology may be, often is, and historically usually has been a better Christian than the theologically-correct intellectual and professional.



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Are Mormons necessary?

I am not (at the time of writing) a Mormon; however I believe that Mormons bears signs of being 'a people' who have been blessed by God.

By 'blessed by God' I mean that - somewhat as the ancient Jews had a role in the scheme of salvation for Mankind - so do Mormons have some such role.

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And that role may be to bear Christian witness to the fundamental importance of marriage and family.

I suspect that Mormons were divinely inspired, created and sustained to carry this message for and to the Christian world through times (foreseen by God) when marriage and family were first neglected, then brought under ever-greater attack.

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In other words, I think that this element at least was divinely-inspired in Joseph Smith and the other founders of Mormonism; and the faithfulness to this message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (including the later revelation, revision, or clarification, that marriage must be monogamous) has been the reason why the Mormons have grown and thriven; until now when they are the only large Christian denomination in the West which has an average of significantly more than two children per woman.

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(Consider - all other Christian denominations in the West have in practice embraced willed sterility; since the other examples of fertile Christians - like the Amish - are not psychologically part of the West. This unique witness in actuality strikes me as a fact of huge significance. And it is a product of immense efforts on behalf of Mormons in the face of increasingly powerful and pervasive secular counter-pressure.) 

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Furthermore, Mormons display what is generally regarded as the highest average level of good behaviour of any large group in the West.

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For me, these facts - plus the fact that this continues after 180 years, or eight generations; means that Mormonism is essentially-true and essentially-good - despite all that can be said about its theological concreteness, simplifications, errors and/ or incompleteness; its faults and its limitations; and the fact that like any human thing in this world it is to some extent fallen and corrupt.

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All that can be said against the Mormon people is overwhelmed by the vital nature of the core message they carry and exemplify, concerning the centrality of marriage and family to Christian life; a message which happens to be the single most important and urgent thing that the modern world needs to know.

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Alcohol and Mormons

One obvious and uncontroversial fact about Mormons is that they are one of very few groups in the modern world who have, by and large, wholesome and sustainable aspirations relating to marriage and family. And a high proportion of Mormons live by these aspirations.

How does this work, how do they manage it?

Here are some speculations (and they are speculations).

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The root of it seems to be religious - and relating to the distinctive religious doctrines and emphases of Mormonism (in other words, Mormon exceptionalism is not attributable to something like genetic inheritance or pure culture).

But many mainstream Christians have similar aspirations to Mormons, yet utterly fail to live by them - and most Christian denominations have long since given-up trying to resist the sexual revolution.

My guess is that Mormonism has certain interlinked features which enable it, uniquely among Christian denominations to achieve what they believe.

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For young men the fact that Mormonism is a Patriarchal religion is a guarantee of significant status for all men: this is enhanced by the fact that a married man is normally expected to be the priest for his wife and family - a divinely-ordained and honoured position.

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Why would a man, qua man - and not specifically as a Mormon - want to remain chaste, marry early, and stay faithful to a Mormon woman?

(Bearing in mind that a high status Mormon man would usually be surrounded by non-Mormon opportunities for extra-marital sex, and for marriage.)

Perhaps because - assuming he does indeed want to marry, and stay married, and raise a family; then Mormon women are more likely than average to be chaste and faithful and orientated to motherhood (in so far as upbringing can influence a person's behaviour).

Mormon women are also expecting to marry while young, while non-Mormon women often delay marriage.

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But what of Mormon women?

As a rule, women control the sexual marketplace: they are the gate-keepers. This especially applies to young women (nowadays by their own choice, but throughout history and still in much of the world by very strict the familial control of young women’s sexual behaviour).



If you control the sexual behaviour of women, then – indirectly but effectively - you pretty much also control the sexual behaviour of men.

So, it is probably the behaviour of Mormon women that underpins the success of the Mormon system of marriage and family (combined with the above-mentioned preference of high status Mormon men to marry Mormon women).

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The difficulty most religions (or cultures) have is retaining young, attractive women within the faith, when young attractive women are in demand with men of any and every faith.

For example, an exceptionally attractive woman from almost any background or group can and (unless there are enforced social prohibitions) will often marry almost any man, no matter high status. So a beautiful slave, chorus girl, or gypsy girl can (and did) sometimes marry a Lord, King or Emperor. 

What stops the most beautiful Mormon women marrying high status men outside the faith (and undermining the whole system)?

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Usually, this problem is dealt with by extreme coercive and perhaps violent sanctions against those women who look outside the faith for partners or husbands: but this is emphatically not the case among Latter Day Saints.

So, if there are not strong sanctions against marrying-out; then there must (it seems) be strong incentives for the most beautiful Mormon women to marry - in - to marry only Mormon men, and indeed only the most devout of Mormon men. 

So why do Mormon women so often choose to remain chaste until marriage, and then marry a Mormon man, and then stick with him, and (usually) have as large a family as they can afford to raise decently?

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Part of the answer, I suggest, involves the Mormon prohibition on alcohol; because alcohol is a thing which - even in moderation, but especially in excess (which is ever more common) – enables or promotes female promiscuity.

This is my tentative explanation:

Most women are naturally chaste in the sense of being highly-selective and care-full in their choice of sexual partners; and generally requiring commitment before allowing sex. This is an expected product of evolution because throughout much of history, women who were not selective about sexual partners would not have raised many children to adulthood.  



In modern Western society, this has been continually attacked for many decades by unprecedented levels of propaganda from the mass media; but one neglected factor in the increased promiscuity of non-Mormon women is alcohol.

Alcohol removes inhibition; indeed alcohol is strategically used for this purpose. Getting the woman drunk is a strategy used by seducing men; but more recently it is also used by on women themselves - to remove their own spontaneous (biologically bred) inhibitions.



Without alcohol, most women find it very difficult (psychologically difficult) to be promiscuous - even when they consciously 'want' to be

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Therefore, I think a necessary (not sufficient) factor in the chastity of Mormon women, is the prohibition on alcohol; and therefore prohibition is a necessary factor in the success of the Mormon system of marriage and family (but specifically for women). 

It is the absolute prohibition on alcohol - in the context of the Mormon religion, and the social system - that enables most Mormon women to live-up to the high Christian ideals of their society.

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What do we do in Heaven?

For all Christians, Salvation leads to eternal life in Heaven, and Heaven is beyond our power fully to imagine, since after resurrection we dwell there with purified minds in perfected bodies, adopted by God as Sons of God, and in the presence of the divine.

There is nothing in any other religion that can remotely compare with the hope of Christian Heaven.

But for plain people, for those unable to think in terms of abstractions; the usual descriptions of Heaven are lacking in precision when it comes to the description of what we will do there.

Not least because our earthly minds always need to do something - we cannot imagine just being or just worshipping: this kind of explanation of Heaven seems indescribably dull and tedious – and it probably counter-productive.  

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By contrast, the Paradise of some other religions is depicted in terms of the best imaginable kind of earthly life; dwelt in by ourselves as we currently are, but lacking all earthly pains and including all earthly delights; going-on at the highest pitch of ecstasy, for all time.

If you think about this for a while, you will recognize what a false promise it really is - and how, to be tolerable and not to be an horrific fate, it would entail something like recurrent oblivion of memory, so that we could just live in the blissful present without awareness of endless duration.

But at the first level of analysis, Paradise sounds a lot better than life on earth, and it is perfectly clear what we would actually do there: eat wonderful foods, drink wonderful drinks, make love, appreciate the beauties, converse and joke happily, and so on.

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By contrast, because we will live in Christian Heaven as purified and perfected beings, it is hard to state exactly what we will do there: most answers seems woefully inadequate to our feeble earthly imaginations.

So that, while it is factually correct that to live in the presence of God and the Heavenly beings would be a greater bliss than we can imagine; that is the problem - it is a greater bliss than we can imagine (unless we are already advanced in theosis).

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This is another respect in which it seems that the concreteness of Mormonism is an advantage: above Salvation (ie. being saved from Hell), the highest level of Heaven is called Exaltation, and is the destiny of a celestially-married couple.



Exaltation means not only living in God’s presence, but receiving power to do as God does, including the power to bear children. 



Here is a thing to do that is worthy of Heaven, and of Sons of God; a difficult, long term, but one could imagine deeply rewarding and endlessly interesting job.

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This doctrine of exaltation has (at least) two elements: one is new to Mormonism - that this destiny is available only jointly, to a man and wife. This puts a novel perspective on the highest Heaven, as it becomes a place we go to in-company.

The other is a making concrete the mainstream Christian abstraction of what it actually means to be adopted as Sons of God: Mormonism say that it means we ourselves 'bear children' to populate a new world, a new Earth (as it were) with mortal men, and to do for them what God does for us.

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As I say, in Mormonism all this is made very concrete and definite in a way that does not happen in mainstream Christianity - at least it does not happen in the kind of professionally-written systematic theology to which people refer in defining Christian beliefs.

However, what the mass of actual (real, devout, usually simple) Christians who now live and ever have lived believe in their own hearts and minds is another matter altogether - and I suspect that this is much closer to Mormonism that would be supposed from official theology.

I therefore take the Mormon doctrine of exaltation as a reasonable (albeit approximate) explanation of what we will actually do when we become Sons of God.

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To the concrete mind, it seems obvious that being adopted as Sons of God must mean that we do something different from, something more than, 'merely' worship God and live with him in happiness and without pain; since that is possible to angels without the need for incarnate earthly life, indeed for mortal men to experience earthly life would seem to be little more than a hazard and a distraction if what we do in Heaven is the same as angles who have not needed to experience mortality.



(Why would God bother to create Men if the best that Men can expect is to be as good as angels - who were created directly into that situation and without the rigmarole of mortality and the danger of damnation?)

Whereas Mormons can explain earthly life and mortal death as a preparation or education for doing the job of a Son of God.

That explanation makes sense, and satisfies the curiosity, in a very straightforward and immediate fashion. It addresses the question and also what lies behind the question. Most mainstream Christian explanations of the work of Heaven do neither; and come across as merely vague, or else evasive - perhaps even seeming dishonest.

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Therefore it may be possible for mainstream Christians to believe that the Mormon description is a reasonable answer to a question (what do we do in Heaven?) that for many people demands an answer; and for which people will supply their own answer - if a comprehensible one is not forthcoming from the official sources.

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It is utterly inappropriate to apply the logic and rigour of professional systematic theology to a necessarily simplified and concrete explanation of a complex, incompletely-known and abstract phenomenon - which must be understood and taught to their families by an 'amateur' priesthood of all men in good standing (whatever their intelligence and knowledge may be).

It is inappropriate to use 'Gotcha!' arguments, such as that by this doctrine Mormons are revealed as Polytheists or Pagans - since the Bible often refers to gods in the plural, and it is normal Christian understanding that Men will become in some sense gods.


Any explanation of this (essential) aspect of scripture must either be too abstract for most people to follow, or open to being misunderstood as polytheistic.

And after all, many Protestants have regarded Roman and Orthodox Catholics as very obviously polytheists in their veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints – or at least pretended to do so (I doubt the sincerity of many of these accusations of polytheism). 

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Now although (in this instance, and in other instances) the concrete and clear Mormon answer can satisfy most of the obvious questions, and in a way which is comprehensible to almost anyone; it does break down when pushed further in terms of deep philosophical coherence, or when matched up against mainstream Christian systematic theology.

Putting a microscope onto Mormon theology, it is as rather if we were to go to an extremely saintly and utterly simple Orthodox Babushka from Holy Russia, and set her to debate with a Professor of Thomistic Systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame – very intelligent and learned but who may not actually be a Christian believer.

If we asked the Babushka for a description of her beliefs they would be concrete, anthropomorphic, probably with polytheistic-sounding elements, perhaps idiosyncratic and almost certainly heretical (by official criteria) – both utterly unsystematic and yet at the same time both sufficient and relevant to her everyday spiritual needs.

For the Babushka to have the relationship with God which she does (and for which all Christians strive), God must be a person; and to be a person he must be concrete and not abstract.

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What the Babushka and devout Mormonism share is that concreteness and actually and literal explicitness which potentially brings religion very close for many people (not only for an expert elite of intellectuals or monastics); brings into juxtaposition the spiritual realm with everyday earthly life.

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The point I wish to make here is that Christianity necessarily and properly provokes plain people (including children) to ask certain obvious questions - such as what do we actually do in Heaven.

The question implicitly means what do we do in Heaven that we cannot do on earth, that is different from anything that could be done on earth, but which sounds like a task or job which is difficult and interesting enough to take-up eternity' (which is being understood as 'a very long time').

Considered in this fashion, it may be possible for mainstream Christians to acknowledge that Mormonism has provided a good answer; an answer that - while it is not perfect, and is less than coherent in terns of systematic theology - is motivating and inspiring at an everyday, experiential level: and perhaps mainstream Christians are prone to neglect that level - which may be the most important of all.

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The Book of Mormon as Literature

I have been interested in Mormonism for several years and since before I converted to Christianity. I have supervised several small research projects on Mormon fertility http://mormonfertility.blogspot.co.uk/ with another ongoing and further planned.

Naturally, just about the first thing I did when I got interested in Mormonism was to try and read The Book of Mormon.



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It was not at all what I expected, and for a few years left me completely bewildered.

Since I knew that missionaries gave out this book to prospective converts, I expected that it would set out the Mormon religion, but it does not. It was mostly (so far as I could tell) what purported to be historical annals - and it was hard to see what this had to do with Mormonism as I understood it from reading (mostly) historical and sociological books on the subject.

I put the book aside and looked instead at Doctrine and Covenants - which was much more the kind of thing I expected: a setting-out of the religion in terms of a series of revelations. But again it was too unsystematic to really understand.

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But I have returned to the Book of Mormon from time to time, especially over the past year; and now feel much clearer about it; or rather, I am now clear that it is qualitatively unlike any other book – in other words, considered merely as a work of literature (and leaving aside its religious significance), the Book of Mormon is unique.

In terms of its literary quality, it is good. Not, of course, in the same league as the Authorized Version of The Bible - but then what is? But the Book of Mormon contains a great deal to enjoy, and purely as prose is vastly superior to most modern translations of the Bible.

Of course, it is hard to read; and I have probably not read-with-attention absolutely all of it - but then again the Old Testament is also hard to read with full attention, and I have not read it all.



(Just for interest – the passages which have so far stuck in my mind most are pretty much the usual ones that Mormons seem to have liked best – such as the extraordinary passage in 1 Nephi when Nephi beheads the sleeping Laban; the episode of Christ blessing the children in 3 Nephi – and the bitter-sweet closing of Moroni when he is depicted alone, the last of his race.)

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But the Book of Mormon is a remarkable book, qua book.

What it most resembles in my personal experience is my experience of reading JRR Tolkien/ Christopher Tolkien's 1977 The Silmarillion. The similarity is that the BoM presents an extremely intricate and self-consistent world across a large historical timescale presented as Annalistic history in an uncompromizing fashion.


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But the BoM does come equipped with an account of its own transmission to these days – which Tolkien never achieved for his major works.

Another superficially-plausible comparison would be Ossian (published from 1760 onwards) compiled by James Macpherson (probably) from numerous oral sources of song and stories in the Scottish Highlands. This ‘epic poem’ became a foundational text of romanticism and nationalism - with an influence stretching across Europe and the Atlantic, and lasting a couple of generations.

So, considered as a work of subcreative invention, as the depiction of 'a world' - and from an agnostic perspective as to its provenance - the Book of Mormon is of world historical stature - or, at least, it should be thus considered.

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Adding to this fascination is the circumstances of its. It seems clear that The Book of Mormon was produced by Joseph Smith, dictated by him, in a single and seemingly unrevised draft, in the space of just a few months and with no apparent sources.


When it is taken into account that Joseph Smith was no Tolkien, nor even a Macpherson - being mostly uneducated and uncultured, having a rather chaotic personality, and with no access to educated and cultured people, or to literary and scholarly resources - this was, to say the least of it, an amazing, unprecedented, and unrepeated feat.

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The usual ways of dismissing the significance of the Book of Mormon do not remotely hold water; or, at least, if the kind of explanations used to explain-away the Book of Mormon were accepted in mainstream literary history, then nothing would be left standing!

I personally am quite happy to accept that - in some way and at some level - Joseph Smith was genuinely divinely inspired (an inspiration not necessarily complete, and not necessarily without error) - and that of course explains the whole thing.

(I believe that the idea of the Book of Mormon as having been inspired, but demonically-inspired, which I have seen articulated, is decisively refuted by the subsequent history of the CJCLDS Church.)

But for those who do not acknowledge the reality of divine inspiration as a possibility; the 'case' of the Book of Mormon is, or ought to be, a matter of extreme interest - rather as if The Silmarillion had been serially dictated, off the top of his head, by a semi-literate rustic gardener such as Sam Gamgee.



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Was Joseph Smith a religious genius?


In his highly interesting book The American Religion (1993), Harold Bloom (himself perhaps the most famous US literary critic of the past several decades) famously described Joseph Smith (1805-1844; 'the Mormon Prophet') as an authentic religious genius.

But, although this comment showed that Bloom had understood the magnitude of Smith's achievement, this was something of a back-handed compliment!

Because Bloom did not, of course, believe that Joseph Smith was an authentically-inspired prophet - and therefore (given the scope of JS's achievement) Bloom was stating what must therefore be the case: that Joseph Smith was a genius in having himself created a remarkable new religion.

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(In passing, it is worth noting that Bloom, a Jew, apparently found the earlier and more Hebraic, Old Testament, millennial, Zion-building style of theocratic Mormonism more remarkable - and, one senses, more congenial - than what Mormonism became after polygamy was abolished, and Deseret/ Utah joined the United States and was fully subjected to Federal government and laws.)

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So what was Joseph Smith's achievement such that Bloom (something of an expert on geniuses) called him an authentic genius?

1. Writing The Book of Mormon in a few months (plus associated scriptures and revelations).

2. Creating an entirely new Christian theology (what he termed the 'restored' Gospel).

3. Founding an extremely successful church - its distinctive priesthood, offices, rituals, and organization.

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In fact Smith's achievement was made even more extraordinary by his further innovation -

4. An explicit acknowledgement of his own fallibility and limitations; such that the church incorporated the expectation of continuous revelation and revision of the scriptures, theology and church organization.

This meant, in effect, that JS trusted his created forms actually to improve on what he had done.

And such was a pretty unusual, perhaps unique, trait among the founders of major religions.

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So, if Joseph Smith is not regarded as an inspired Prophet, then he must indeed have been a genius; someone combining scripture-writing abilities approximately equal to an author of one of the minor books of the Old Testament, with something close to the theological creativity and comprehensiveness of St Paul, and the church-organizing abilities of St Peter...

On the other hand, a close examination of the life and character of Joseph Smith does not seem to reveal the personality or abilities of that kind of genius...

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Most people who are not themselves Mormons do not recognize the scope and magnitude of Joseph Smith’s achievement, simply because they do not know enough about the subject.

For them there is 'nothing to explain'; and (like most of JS's contemporaries - and Mormonism was born and grew under the intense skeptical, mocking and aggressive scrutiny from the mass media and existing churches) Smith can be written off as merely a 'lucky' fool (lucky, that is, apart from being tortured, imprisoned and murdered) and/ or a cunning fraud (perhaps covertly motivated by seeking a harem).

But, if one is knowledgeable and honest enough to admit the astonishing achievement of Mormonism, then the more that can be said against Joseph Smith, the less likely it is that he really was 'a genius'; and therefore the more likely it is that he was just what he said he was: an inspired, but fallible, prophet.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson and Joseph Smith

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882 - Born in Boston and lived in Concord, Massachusetts.

Joseph Smith 1805-1844 - Born in Vermont, raised in upstate New York.

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I am - or was - something of an expert on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his circle, especially Thoreau - having read some hundreds of books on the subject, starting about age fifteen and continuing over the next few decades.

By contrast, I have only relatively recently read about Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism); and it took me quite a while before I suddenly realized that Smith and Emerson were almost exactly the same age and lived in the same region of Greater New England (i.e. that definition of New England which includes Upstate New York).

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Despite this, in most senses the two men were about as different as could be, and inhabited extremely different worlds.

Emerson was upper class, highly educated and widely read, literate and an extraordinarily powerful preacher/ lecturer; while JS was none of these.

Emerson's world was intensely cultivated and inhabited by famous intellectuals and artists; JS's world was raw, violent, in near turmoil - I was particularly struck by the continual, daily - almost hourly - possibility and actuality of unrestrained 'vigilante' mob violence.

(e.g. Shortly after he founded the Mormon Church, JS was severely beaten, tarred and feathered by a mob; and his castration was planned; he was stripped and tied to a board but at the last moment the doctor brought along for the purpose could not bring himself to do it. Emerson only encountered any such things in the pre-Civil War heights of anti-abolitionism.)

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Even in economic terms there was a stark contrast - Emerson's world was one of considerable security (by world historical standards) and for his early decades there was near -zero poverty in Concord (Emerson was astonished by the poverty and depravity he saw in the much richer and more powerful cities of England); while Smith was himself poor, often hungry and lacking basic necessities; surrounded by poverty - families were continually uprooting and seeking subsistence, ‘borrowing’, begging etc.

*

So much for the differences. Yet the similarities in terms of magnitude of international spiritual/ religious influence are striking.

*

Emerson came from a Ministerial Calvinist (Puritan) background which moves through Unitarianism into Deist transcendentalism, and then a non-supernaturalist spiritualism focused on subjective sensations.

Thus Emerson, and his 'disciple' Thoreau, are spiritual and indeed lineal fathers of that vast modern phenomenon of Liberal New Age spirituality which dominate modern 'religious' seeking and expression

Emerson's spiritual influence was extremely large in scale, but diffuse in effect and tailing-off into mere entertainment and distraction.

*

Joseph Smith has been hardly less successful in terms of influence, leaving the only Western form of Christianity that has retained its devoutness, grown rapidly in size by winning converts and above replacement fertility, and has thriven among the educated and successful.

However the nature of influence was very different in each instance.

Smith's influence was numerically much less than Emerson's; but was spiritually much more concentrated and powerful - objectively transforming the lives of his followers. 

*

(As a side point, both Emerson and Smith had famous disciples: Henry David Thoreau and Brigham Young - who both provided a form of influence that was clearer and simpler and therefore more easily transmitted than the master's original doctrines.)

*

The US has been, since the early 1800s, the creative centre for new movements in Western religion - and Emerson and Joseph Smith were perhaps the most important of enduring influences. The very difference between their legacies is remarkable: Emerson having been assimilated into the mainstream mass media expressions of 'mind, body and spirit', self-help and esteem boosting; while JS's remains focused, hard-edged, tough and private.

*

So, what would each think of the other, and who would me most pleased with how things had turned-out?

Here ther is a significant difference. I think Joseph Smith would have been satisfied, probably delighted, with his legacy church; while Emerson would have been utterly appalled at how transcendentalism had turned-out.

Transcendentalism turned-out exactly the way that Emerson's most vehement critics at Harvard and among the Calvinists and stricter Unitarians said that it would turn-out - except even worse: a chaos of irrationalist emotional subjectivity which justifies anything, or nothing.

*

Emerson's legacy includes not just the shallow, selfish and self-indulgent spiritual seekers of today, but Nietzsche and his various spawn.

I suspect that if Emerson could have forseen how things would have turned-out; he would have recognized and repented his error, and returned to some orthodox form of Christianity (perhaps Roman Catholicism).

And what a difference that might have made! To have America's first and most influential literary-philosophical genius on the side of tradition instead of progressivism...



**



RW Emerson and Joseph Smith’s basic approach to life

From the middle 1990s for a decade, I was reading and re-reading Emerson with tremendous avidity - not only in a literary way, but as a guide for life. Having not looked at him for several years, and not since I became a Christian, I have returned to re-read some favourite bits and pieces in the past couple of weeks - and was struck by two things.

*

1. Emerson is a really good writer; I mean really good. The quality of his prose is unique and unsurpassed (that is, other writers are equally good, but in different ways) - I find it elating, intoxicating, almost too powerful to bear for any length of time.

2. Emerson's anti-Christian agenda is now blazingly clear and obvious to me, from almost everything he ever wrote and said; as is his staggering egotism/ pride, and these are linked. Emerson's work is a vast and unbounded, extended assertion of himself, his potential and his adequacy against anyone or any thing (including God) that tries to constrain or direct it.

*

Emerson was raised as a Unitarian and became a prominent Unitarian minister - and Unitarianism is already anti-Christian in its profoundest implications - although the first generation of Unitarians refused to acknowledge this, and generational inertia meant that the fundamental anti-Christanity of Unitarianism took a while to emerge.



So, Emerson was never a Christian, although perhaps he supposed he was - but nonetheless he found the rebel sect of Unitarianism to be already stultifying, empty and spiritually dead: which was a just criticism since it amounted to merely a system of secular ethics and an ungrounded and unjustifiably exclusive usage of Christian scriptures and form loosely associated with an impersonal theistic God.


Naturally this rapidly slid into exactly the kind of eclectic 'spirituality' - that we now term New Age - which Emerson pioneered with such glorious eloquence. 

*

I conclude that Emerson is, exactly has his contemporaries saw him, a terribly perilous writer - precisely because he is such a great writer, and has so many stunning insights - yet ultimately these are put to the service of a doctrine of such extreme, such total self-centredness that I struggle to comprehend it.

*

Perhaps Emerson's greatest and most valuable (and most often repeated) insight is that each person must appropriate the world for himself and in his own terms; a living religion (that is to say any true religion) simply cannot be just a following of rules and rituals.

To put it as Emerson did in an early work, to be properly alive, each individual must experience (again and again, day by day; indeed, hour by hour) their own personal revelation - they must experience direct and divine communications of reality.

For Emerson this imperative was pretty-much the entire aim of life - so that the ideal life became in one sense that moment of revelation timelessly filling all; in another sense (because, experience seemed to show that these moments did come to an end) an incessant search for the next moment of revelation - life as a sequence of such moments.

*

But Emerson's error, which led him into paradox and the evil advocacy - if not practice - of Pride as a principle of life - as indeed the only principle of life; was to reject the past, to reject the unity of humanity, to perceive himself (his soul) as the only thing that was really real - to argue for a subjectivism so extreme as to amount almost to solipsism. 

In his burning desire to shed the constraints of history and society, which seemed to be shackling his imagination, and focus all meaning on his own individual moments of revelation (the total affirmation of Me! Here! Now!); Emerson destroyed the basis of humanity, of sharing, shape and purpose - and consequently his influence (among those who actually read what he wrote and try to live by it) has been substantially pernicious.

*

What was needed and what was necessary was to accept Emerson's assertion of the absolute necessity of personal revelation, albeit perilous, as an addition (or restoration) to Christianity.

This absolute and inflexible demand for modern, personal revelation, I perceive as the point of unity between Emerson and the other great long-term spiritual influence born in the United States at almost exactly the same time: Joseph Smith, the Mormon 'living prophet' of modern, latter day revelation.

Joseph Smith could have endorsed Emerson's cry by which he opened his first great published work Nature :- Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories and criticism, The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe?



*

The religious difference between Emerson and Smith is essentially that Emerson took this demand to behold God face to face, and enjoy an original relation to the universe as his sole aim and principle, while Smith added it (and its products, such as the Book of Mormon and his other collected revelations) to existing Christianity.

Smith thus achieved precisely what Emerson, in his scandalous 1838 address to Harvard Divinity School, had declared was impossible:

I confess, all attempts to project and establish a Cultus with new rites and forms, seem to me vain. Faith makes us, and not we it, and faith makes its own forms. All attempts to contrive a system are as cold as the new worship introduced by the French to the goddess of Reason, — to-day, pasteboard and fillagree, and ending to-morrow in madness and murder.  

*

Even as Emerson wrote his speech, Joseph Smith had already built a new city (the first of three) as headquarters for the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio; and the years since the above words were spoken, Smith's 'Cultus' - with its 'new rites and forms' added-to, modifying, re-interpreting existing modes of Christianity - was (contrary to Emerson's characterization of it as 'vain') indeed 'established'; and has continued to grow into a major world religion - and has been neither a dead religion of pasteboard and fillagree (rather, a tremendously motivating religion which sustains great devoutness and other-worldliness), nor has it ended in madness and murder.

But, on the other hand, a stripped-down New Age version of Emerson's spirituality of individualism and subjectivism has merged with mainstream secular Leftism, and grown and grown to become the dominant mode of thought in the West almost entirely discarding Emerson in the process.

(And quite naturally so, since Emerson was not necessary to the development of New Age spirituality - rather he was a prophet, herald or advance guard of it.).

But what a fascinating divergence from such close roots and similar demands are Ralph Waldo Emerson and Joseph Smith - both emerging in the North Eastern corner of the USA in the 1830s!


**



A philosophical pragmatist finds fulfilment in Mormonism


Before I became a Christian I was a philosophical follower of William James (via Robert Pirsig – author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) - thus a pragmatist and pluralist.

When I became a Christian, for whatever reason, I jettisoned this and tried to adopt a Classical Greek approach - first Aristotle/ Aquinas linked with Western Catholicism, then Platonism linked with Eastern Orthodoxy.

The advantage of Platonism, for me here and now, was that the future held the prospect a condition I envisaged as a blissful eternal stasis: as I imagined it, like an infinitely prolonged moment of aesthetic, loving and philosophical contemplation.

Indeed I regard Platonism as essentially contemplative and other worldly, such that the problem is finding reasons ever to do anything or to delay death and put-off the euphoria which awaits on the other side.

*

Yet, after a period of increasing tension my innate disposition has reasserted itself but this time within the Christian world view; and I have thus twanged-back to William James and his pragmatic/ pluralist vision of the nature of life - especially as described by some aspects of Mormon theology.

(The link of philosophy, interest and sympathy between James and Mormonism is seemingly well known and has been documented among LDS intellectuals for more than a century, but I became aware of it only recently.)

*

Unless one regards philosophy as more fundamental than Christianity - which sounds like an absurd belief for a Christian yet is clearly very common - then there is nothing whatsoever that is paradoxical or self-contradictory about being a pluralist Christian.

(Indeed, a degree of pluralism is, as James, points-out, intrinsic to all monotheisms in dividing creator from created - but of course Trinitarian Christianity takes this further, and some 'catholic' types of Christianity take it far indeed.)

Monism (as found in Classical theism) is not 'more Christian' in essence, nor indeed necessarily in practice than pluralism; even if it has been much commoner among Christian intellectuals.

At any rate, it is an aspect of the Jamesian perspective that more formal systems are driven by inexplicit feelings of one sort or another - which is why philosophy (and theology) has been so often/ most usually a divider rather than a uniter in human affairs.

(Contrary to theory, religion based on philosophy is frequently no more able to attain consensus than is a religion based on revelation or mysticism - since philosophical discourse is driven by prior feelings and convictions, it leads to schism as quickly and reliably as does personal conviction.)

*

However, one big disadvantage of the pragmatist pluralist way of understanding Christianity is that the prospect is exhausting compared with that hope for permanent contemplative bliss to which I referred above.

As a naturally tender-minded and asthenic personality prone to acedia, I naturally looked forward to permanent relief from the recurrent business of living - yet to the pragmatist, the afterlife is 'more of the same forever' with respect to effort, striving, learning, and developing and dealing with the triumphs and tragedies of existence...

I can only hope and presume that the resurrection body brings with it much greater dose of health, energy, motivation and resolution than I am used-to here in mortal life!

Then I might be more enthusiastic about the propect of endless delightful (yet also painful) labour, rather than euphoric eternal rest.

**



Who should dominate the church: men or women (make your choice)



"Should men, or should women, dominate the church?" is the properly-formed question on this topic - the question which sets into proper perspective the mass of comments and reflections and policies which have clustered around the topic of sex roles in churches.

(Note that for Christians this is essentially a question of the church as an organization, and not the religion itself - it is a mostly question of good order in the institution. At a spiritual level this discussion melts away; or, at least, transforms qualitatively.)

This is only an active question in some religions, of which Christianity is one - because there have been a wide range of balances between men and women in domination of the Christian church, and in different areas of church activity.

*

I had been reading a Mormon blog in which a woman complained that - in terms of the LDS church - she, and her daughter - felt (ahem) hurt by the maleness of the priesthood; given that the priesthood was of such vital importance: for her nothing could make-up for this fact of inequality, of non-sameness.

Musing on this, I realized that the premise of this debate was mistaken and dangerous; because when the question is properly framed there are only two valid perspectives.

Either 1. the Mormon church should remain dominated by men, or 2. it should instead become dominated by women.

And this is a question to which empirical evidence can be brought - because there are examples on both sides. There are Christian denominations and specific churches that are dominated by men; and there are those which are dominated by women.

In between there are many Christian churches in which the balance is towards either men or women and where the situation is clearly moving in one direction or the other.

*

So there are men-dominated churches in Mormonism, as mentioned, and Eastern Orthodoxy, and some Conservative evangelicals.

And there are women-dominated churches in all liberal Protestant denominations. (Woman dominated means not that there are no men, but that male leader must primarily be compliant to the agenda of being ever-more women-dominated.)

*

I see the Roman Catholic church as being a mixed state and moving towards woman-domination since Vatican II. Despite counter-currents I do not believe that this this movement has stopped. So, the male priesthood has become increasingly feminized and compliant (conducted according to principles derived from women) for several decades; a situation which happened earlier and more completely in the Romanized Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism

*

From the above, I think there are sufficient example to infer the necessary medium- to long-term consequences of men versus women domination of churches in terms of the size, vitality and growth of the institutions

So, the discussions on sex roles in denominations should not occur in a vacuum of abstraction and at a theoretical level. The consequences of changing a church from male to female domination are indeed known hence predictable.

For instance, we know that the nature of an institution is fundamentally shaped and changed by a shift from male to female domination.

And we know that there are no long-term-viable examples of mixed male/ female domination - there are only transitional states as a church moves in one direction or the other.

*

The long-term-viable examples (I mean church institutions which survive and are strong for several generations) seem to be either male-dominated or female-dominated institutions, tending very much towards single sex institutions, or rather sub-institutions within churches (like church schools, nunneries, nursing sisters, the Mormon Relief Society).

Things are actually very simple - once transitional situations are understood! Either an church is organized around the principle of domination by men or by women.

In practice this domination will always allow for exceptions, to varying degrees; but since equality and impartiality are impossible - we have here an apparently immovable principle in human affairs: either/or.

**



Free will is a product of us being eternal autonomous beings



My current understanding is that each person has existed eternally as an autonomous (but not, initially, personal) essence - and that at some point in Time we became Sons of God, which made us into persons.

(God shaped us into personhood when we became his spirit children, before we entered mortal life.)

*

Our free will is rooted in our eternal autonomous existence, but was made effectual - choices were made possible - by our having become Children of God.

This is what made The Fall possible.

*

On the one hand, our personhood comes from God and the reality of our situation is that we are in a profound relationship with God since He is our Father and made us persons; but on the other hand we existed as essences before we had a relationship with God; and this pre-existence is what enables us to reject God, and to deny the primacy of our relationship with Him.

*

It is because our free will derives from eternal agency that we are able to choose (to have the divine attribute of being unmoved movers, or first causes).

And it is because our free will derives from eternal agency that we must choose to acknowledge God's Fatherly love for us, and our child-like love of Him - because we cannot be compelled (not even by God - it is vital to recognize this) to acknowledge God's love, nor can we be compelled to love Him.

To be Christian is a choice because it must be a choice.

*

Therefore, Satan could not and cannot remove the ultimate (metaphysical) autonomy of persons, nor can Satan control free will - although he can of course enslave the body and compel actions.

Satan can influence autonomy only indirectly - principally by demoralization and corruption of the will - so that a person will choose to use his autonomy to deny his autonomy; and deliberately, repeatedly, systematically choose to sin and to destroy Good - while denying at every moment that he could choose otherwise.

And this is, of course, the great triumph of Satan in this modern era: to have so deeply confused and corrupted modern man that he uses his eternal and indestructible freedom of will in actively-denying the reality of his own freedom.

*

[Note: The above schema is the only one that (currently) seems to make sense of free will to me, therefore I present it for consideration. It leaves intact all core Christian doctrine, but modifies the metaphysical back story - so that some things are re-explained. It is, I think, pretty much identical with the implications of Mormon theology as I get it from Sterling McMurrin and Terryl Givens - but there are quite likely aspects which go beyond, or conflict with, what many or most Mormon theologians seem to say - so far as I can tell - which is not very far.] 



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Negative prejudice against Mormonism from Mainstream Christians



There is a negative prejudice against Mormonism among serious Mainstream Christians.

Neutrality is not possible – of course – therefore when approaching the subject of Mormonism there will inevitably be prejudice: either positive or negative. What we observe here is that the prejudice is nearly always negative.

Given this negative prejudice, and in relation to religious evaluations, it is likely that whatever evidence is examined, that prejudice will be confirmed. Mormons are assumed guilty until proven innocent, and – as usual in such situations – cannot prove themselves innocent.



The prejudice frames the discourse, as prejudice does.

*

Now, what is interesting is why mainstream Christians should bring this prejudice to the table – why do Mormons attract this?



Is there any sound reason? Any good reason? And I don’t mean the reasons for anti-Mormon prejudice which people use in public discourse and to excuse themselves – I mean the real reason.

There are indeed some groups where there are sound and good reasons why – from common sense and common experience – in approaching them a negative (suspicious, judgmental) prejudice is appropriate – but not Mormons, surely?



And if we accept that it is reasonable to bring negative prejudice to bear on Mormons – by such criteria, who will be exempt from negative prejudice?

*

Surely, on the surface and with common sense criteria and from hard facts widely known, Mormonism should be approached with a positive prejudice – on the assumption that it is likely to be good, to be wholesome, to be Christian – and that mainstream Christians (if they want to engage with Mormonism) should not be putting it on trial – but rather engaging in a conversation where the reasonable hope is to discover a friend and ally.

This is what I did – since before I was a Christian convert I have regarded Mormonism as Christian, indeed one of the very best of Christian denominations, and I still do – although now I know a great deal about Mormonism from five years of reading, research and devotional study – but done with a positive prejudice, on the assumption that I was dealing with a friend and ally, until shown otherwise.

Yet such is the anti-Mormon prejudice, that Mormons are regarded by many – probably most – serious mainstream Christians as covert demons or brainwashed dupes – as we see in many of these comments.

*

I personally find this very distressing and painful.

Why? Most obviously it is distressing to see people I regard as exemplary Christians (in the primary sense of Christian, which is faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour, people who are exceptionally devout, and who display the Christian virtues to an admirable degree) continually (and indeed gleefully, aggressively) pilloried by other Christians.

This is a horrible thing to behold, provoking pity, sadness, and horror.

But secondly I fear that it imperils the souls of Christians who engage in it, and the denominations who encourage it. Not merely from the encouragement of resentment, pride, hatred etc – but even more from the distortions it introduces to mainstream Christianity, and the failure to learn theological, devotional and moral lessons that ONLY Mormonism can teach to the rest of Christendom.

Failure to learn these lessons from Mormonism may be the death of Christianity in the West. Yes, really. Since Mormonism is doing fine, doing more than fine – while the rest of Christendom is in serious travail.

Maybe that is a root of the problem? Mormonism is doing too well – leading to resentment fuelled by envy?



Whatever the reason for such widespread and entrenched anti-Mormon prejudice, I feel sure the real reason is a bad one, since (in my experience) it encourages, brings out and reinforces such bad qualities in those who display it.

*

In sum, I am seriously distressed by the prevailing anti-Mormon prejudice among serious mainstream Christians, and would love to see it replaced by pro-Mormon prejudice and an attitude of wanting to know more about what enables Mormonism to resist secular modernity so happily, and so effectively – especially in relation to those crucial domains of marriage and the family.

Mormonism is, for me, a litmus test issue in terms of seriousness about the future of Christianity: but the test is for mainstream Christians. If anybody is on trial here, it is not Mormonism but mainstream Christianity in the West.

Sadly, perhaps tragically, Mormonism is a test which most serious mainstream Christians fail spectacularly.

**



Why do Mormons try to convert other Christians?


Mormons try to convert other Christians, as do evangelical Protestants (very successfully) and Roman Catholics (not so successfully) - because in the West most people are weak or lapsed Christians, and form the main missionary field.

So converting other Christians is something which all evangelizing denominations do.

And for very good reasons.

*

What tends to happen is that a lapsed, feeble or 'in name only' member of a Christian denomination converts to another Christian denomination with an increase in faith, zeal etc - as when an ex-Roman Catholic is 'born again' - and I would regard this as usually a positive matter

In sum: surely, to take a feeble Christian and convert them to a stronger Christian is - usually - a Good Thing.

This process may, often does, include a change of denomination, which will have disadvantages - but may in practice be necessary.

*

But there is a difference - because quite often evangelical Protestants or Catholics covert other denominations for the sake of their salvation - they believe that their denomination is necessary for salvation. They may - in all sincerity - warn the potential convert that if they do not convert they will be damned. This may indeed be the major pressure for conversion to mainstream Christin denominations - powerful negative sanctions against those who fail to convert.

*

But Mormons do not believe that.

Mormons believe that devout members of other denominations are already saved, but that becoming an faithful and active Mormon may enable them to attain a higher level of exaltation - i.e. salvation to a higher degree of Heaven - or at least start them along that path in a process which may continue after death.

*

So Mormon missionaries, unlike most other Christian missionaries through history, are not threatening with Hellfire or else; but are instead are offering an add-on (as it were) to other forms of Christianity.

But Mormons do not regard Christians of other denominations as damned - merely limited to a lower, but still wonderful, level of Heaven.

*

(Indeed, the sanctions against not being a Mormon are even 'weaker' - or kinder - than the above simplified account - because Mormons believe that spiritual progression may continue after death - so that after death a person may attain the higher levels of exaltation, even if they do not become a Mormon in this earthly life. The exaltation benefits of being baptized a Mormon accrue almost entirely to the most devout Mormons, whose marriages are sealed for time and eternity in a Temple, and who live according to the commandments and by the rules of the LDS church. Devout Mormons who do not attain this high level of active practice are in much the same salvific situation as devout non-Mormons - will go to the same high but sub-optimal level of Heaven.)

*

So Mormons are pretty much offering only positive incentives to the potential convert.

**

One aspect of Mormon theology which I have found extremely helpful in understanding the human condition is that humans had pre-mortal existence.

*

It took me a while to understand why this was such a significant part of the account of the 'plan of salvation' - but I now perceive it has a vital role; because it enables the explanation that each person chose mortal life on earth - just as Jesus Christ chose to become incarnate as a Man.

By this account, we were not created (indifferent to our wishes) in this vale of tears; we are not thrown into life whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not - but our pre-mortal spirits chose to live on earth in physical bodies, and to undergo death - before returning to the presence of God.

*

The idea that we are all, without exception, volunteers in this life has the effect of transforming the perspective on the nature of the human condition; and dissolving many of the apparently intractable questions related to human suffering.

Because to inflict suffering upon a person who has been thrown into the world, willy-nilly, like it or not, is morally a very different matter from the sufferings undergone by a volunteer.

Supposing that the extreme physical and mental trials and training voluntarily undergone by special military forces, such as the Navy SEALs, were inflicted on all young men, and against their will... this  would be torturing them, pure and simple. The fact of volunteering transforms the moral situation.

And, like special military forces; our voluntary consent to mortal human life was to the general process of life (including death), and to the objectives of that process of life, and not each specific one of life's trials - which were neither known, nor determined, in advance.

*

As Terryl Givens makes clear in his scholarly and thorough 2010 monograph When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought; the idea that humans had a pre-mortal existence is one that can be traced back to ancient times, perhaps through some specific Biblical texts, through some of the early Fathers of the church (probably including Origen and St Augustine) and right up to this day.

The idea of pre-mortal existence has been persistent and recurrent because of its great explanatory value - and from the fact that without pre-existence and the idea that we volunteered for incarnate morality, the Goodness of God becomes... well, if not impossible to explain, then at least a difficult, complex and often incomprehensible thing to explain.

*


Note added: I would add that mortal life is an experience, more than a test; and no matter how brief it may be - even if it ends in the womb - all mortal life includes the experience of death (death of the mortal body). Therefore, it seems that the experience of death is the minimum/basic reason for mortal, incarnate life. 



**


Pascal’s argument for the hidden God in light of radical free agency

In his Pensees, Blaise Pascal outlines an argument that this world has enough evidence of the truth of Christianity to support faith, but not so much as to compel faith.

That God is hidden, always findable to one who seeks Him - but hidden so that one who does not seek, will not find Him.

*

While I was convinced by this argument, I am now re-evaluating the point of whether God could really, even in principle, provide so much evidence that it would compel belief.

*

I don't think belief can be compelled because Man's free agency really is free - free will cannot be compelled, not even by God - so there never could be such a weight of evidence that would compel belief in God without need for faith.

*

I think this is shown throughout the Bible - where there is always the possibility and often the actuality, of refusing faith; but perhaps especially in the New Testament, when even the actual presence of Christ - his teaching, his works - is not sufficient to compel faith; nor to prevent the apostasy of Judas, the denials of Peter, and the backsliding of most of the Apostles at and immediately after the crucifixion.

*

So I don't find the argument as compelling as I did - but then, neither (from a perspective of Mormon theology and the plan of salvation) do I perceive a need for this argument - the need is probably a by-product of Classical Theology based on Greek philosophy which denies the radical freedom of Man's will in a world where creation-from-nothing implies that God's knowledge and power are absolute, unbounded and comprehensive - with no exclusions.

*

In the world of Classical Theology, free will is a quantitative kind of thing, the kind of thing which can be compelled by a sufficient degree of evidence - therefore not radically autonomous of God's will - indeed, ultimately, on this conception, free will is a delusion and God is doing everything - and Christianity collapses into the bewildered, self-refuting but inescapable fatalism of trying to believe that we are both merely cogs in a gigantic machinery yet also to blame for our motions...

*

Lucky, then, that most Christians always have rejected Classical Theology in practice - even when they passionately assent to it in theory!

**



Volunteering for mortal life


One aspect of Mormon theology which I have found extremely helpful in understanding the human condition is that humans had pre-mortal existence.

*

It took me a while to understand why this was such a significant part of the account of the 'plan of salvation' - but I now perceive it has a vital role; because it enables the explanation that each person chose mortal life on earth - just as Jesus Christ chose to become incarnate as a Man.

By this account, we were not created (indifferent to our wishes) in this vale of tears; we are not thrown into life whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not - but our pre-mortal spirits chose to live on earth in physical bodies, and to undergo death - before returning to the presence of God.

*

The idea that we are all, without exception, volunteers in this life has the effect of transforming the perspective on the nature of the human condition; and dissolving many of the apparently intractable questions related to human suffering.

Because to inflict suffering upon a person who has been thrown into the world, willy-nilly, like it or not, is morally a very different matter from the sufferings undergone by a volunteer.

Supposing that the extreme physical and mental trials and training voluntarily undergone by special military forces, such as the Navy SEALs, were inflicted on all young men, and against their will... this  would be torturing them, pure and simple. The fact of volunteering transforms the moral situation.

And, like special military forces; our voluntary consent to mortal human life was to the general process of life (including death), and to the objectives of that process of life, and not each specific one of life's trials - which were neither known, nor determined, in advance.

*

As Terryl Givens makes clear in his scholarly and thorough 2010 monograph When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought; the idea that humans had a pre-mortal existence is one that can be traced back to ancient times, perhaps through some specific Biblical texts, through some of the early Fathers of the church (probably including Origen and St Augustine) and right up to this day.

The idea of pre-mortal existence has been persistent and recurrent because of its great explanatory value - and from the fact that without pre-existence and the idea that we volunteered for incarnate morality, the Goodness of God becomes... well, if not impossible to explain, then at least a difficult, complex and often incomprehensible thing to explain.

*


Note added: I would add that mortal life is an experience, more than a test; and no matter how brief it may be - even if it ends in the womb - all mortal life includes the experience of death (death of the mortal body). Therefore, it seems that the experience of death is the minimum/basic reason for mortal, incarnate life. 



**



Metaphysical differences between Mormonism and Mainstream Christianity


As I have already stated, the most important aspect is prejudice: whether the Mainstream Christian approaches Mormonism with a positive prejudice, on the assumption or in the hope of finding an underlying unity; or (as is usual) with a negative prejudice, that assumes Mormonism is not Christian, and which puts Mormonism on trial - confronting Mormonism with a set of accusations all of which it must refute on a point by point basis.

In other words, the nature of the prejudice (or prior assumption) will have a vast and decisive effect on the procedure of evaluation and therefore the outcome of evaluation.

*

Because Mormonism is approached by most Mainstream Christians with a negative prejudice, the differences between Mormonism and Mainstream Christianity get presented as a shopping list of point-and-sputter factoids: "Mormons believe God (the Father) had a body", "Mormons believe the risen Jesus visited America" etc etc.

Now many of these shock tactics are misrepresentations and de-contextualized distortions - but of course Mormonism does have many and important differences from mainstream Christianity.

Now, if these are examined one at a time, and especially with a negative prejudice, then this list of differences will seem either wickedly defiant; or simply absurd and arbitrary.

*

But in fact (and I mean in fact) most of these differences (and all of the really significant ones) emerge from an underlying metaphysical difference - philosophical pluralism - and from a different way of reading the Bible (taking it at face value, minus Classical philosophical preconceptions).

I assume that this different perspective came from Joseph Smith and predated the writing of the Book of Mormon, which was then written in accordance with this mode of understanding so different from the theology of the post-Apostolic era (but comfortably consistent with the Bible as understood by a plain man's reading).

*

In sum, Mormonism is Christianity; and differs from other denominations primarily in its metaphysical assumptions (i.e. its philosophical assumptions concerning the basic nature or structure of reality) which are pluralist rather than monist.

These metaphysical assumptions are not a part of Christian revelation, rather they are second order (and historically later) attempts to systematize revelations, and bring them into line with other forms of understanding.

For example, much of the intellectual theological work of the first few hundred years of Christianity seems to have focused on bringing Christian understanding into the framework of Classical Philosophy, in its various manifestations.

*

The vicious Christological disputes (disputes concerning the nature of Christ) of these early centuries seem to have been (at least to some significant extent) a consequence of this philosophical work - when it was found that perfectly clear and comprehensible Biblical revelations were difficult - in fact impossible - to fit into a self-consistent philosophical framework which also fitted with revelatory/ traditional understandings of the nature of Christ.

It was probably the insistence (despite the difficulties) on adopting a Classical philosophical understanding, and giving this philosophical understanding primacy over revelation, which probably led some into heresies - as they followed their philosophy wherever it led, rather than giving primacy to the revelations.

*

So, Christianity has various metaphysical systems backing-up revelation: most famously Platonism (associated with St Augustine) and Aristotelianism (associated with St Thomas Aquinas).

Since around 1830, to this can be added pluralism/ pragmatism - with Mormonism broadly summarizable as Christianity backed-up with a kind of precognitive version of the distinctively 'American' philosophical perspective described by William James and his colleagues.

*

But what is true?

The answer will have to take into account that more than 2000 years has failed to answer objectively whether Plato or Aristotle was true, or even which system was true-er.

Because the truth of metaphysical systems is not an empirical matter, because the metaphysical system includes and defines empirical evaluations.

How, then, to choose which metaphysical system to adopt?

In the first place, the system should be self-consistent.

Having passed this test, and beyond this, the choice of metaphysical systems would take account of factors such as expediency (personal, and social, fruits of the belief), and also comprehensibility, and intuition/ personal revelation.

*

Different metaphysical systems work for different people for different purposes and at different times - each has advantages and disadvantages.

All I would point out is that the Mormon metaphysical system very obviously has many and important advantages (in terms of fruits, of comprehensibility, and as validated by personal revelation) for some people at this point in history.



**



Creatives and the church – heretics versus apostates

There is a problem with creative people and the churches, because:

1. Creative people have a built-in tendency to change things - and some things in the church should not be changed.

2. Creative people typically have a personality type of the (moderately) high-Psychoticism type which is a shopping-list of mostly undesirable traits

http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/eysencks-personality-trait-of.html

For example, creative people are often not conscientious, which means that cannot force themselves to perform duties reliably, regularly, over a long period. They may lack empathy and be rather unconcerned by the opinions of other people. They may be impulsive, prone to tantrums and sulks.

*

In sum, creative people are more than usually 'selfish' and usually not 'joiners' and find church membership to be more onerous, more irritating, more boring than do most people - exactly because they do not much feels the rewards of service, community, groupishness...

*

Now, all of these can be moderated and tamed - by personal effort and by a structured environment - but only in degree.

The fact is that people high in Psychoticism - and thus creative people - are generally troublesome and generally not very useful to the running of the church. They tend indeed to be somewhat parasitic on the hard and dutiful work of others.

Since creativity is rare - it may seem that churches are better off without creative people since although there are not many of them, their potential for causing trouble is considerable.

*

BUT.

The church absolutely needs creative people - at least it needs them over the long term - even though there are many examples of churches being damaged by the activities of creative people (such as theologians) the fact is that the complexity of the world over the long term means that there will always be unforeseen problems which the church must solve, and which can only be solved by creativity - which means by creative people.

Uncreative churches (and this is a problem of all churches without enough men, where women dominate, that are anti-men, where men lack scope - because most creatives are men, because Psychoticism is higher in men) will over the medium-long term decline and become absorbed into other institutions or become extinct, as a matter of certainty.

*

Therefore, the church needs to retain creative people over the long haul (as it were 'on a retainer' - for when they are needed) - needs to keep creative people sufficiently within the church that they will consent to and indeed be motivated to work for the church in the way that (only) creatives can.

I mean deeply motivated - in the special way of creative people - which may mean an obsessive rumination on a problem, a process lasting years, even decades.

This degree of motivation cannot be imposed but must come from within - and it means that creatives must be inspired to work for the benefit of the church. They must be loyal - or, despite their many, frequent, minor disloyalties - their basic affiliation to the church must be maintained.

*

This means that a wise church leader will often need to defend creative church members from expulsion, and from other sanctions which would tend to exclude creatives. And this means some degree of 'special treatment' which can be hard to justify - at least superficially.

But on a deeper analysis, it is not hard to justify, because there is a general principle which means that an individual should be treated as an individual - and a person who has a different make-up, nature, character, personality ought to be differently treated from the mass of people from whom he differs.

Yet, again this is hazardous - as 'special treatment' may be interpreted as a license for bad behaviour, which would itself lead creatives out of the church, or else give them the attitude that it is up to the church to accommodate whatever they happen to want.

*

Furthermore, there is the matter of heresy.

Creatives will always be heretics - no matter how much they may try (and often they won't try!) to be orthodox, their heresy will show itself to the genuinely orthodox - indeed heresy is usually very obvious, which is why there is typically an inappropriate and self-destructive over-reaction against heresy.

(This has been the bane of Christianity since its foundation - overall, the reaction against heresy has done far more harm than heresy itself.)

A heretic disbelieves in whole or part the teachings of the church, or urges a significantly a different emphasis than the church, or adds to the church something distinctive... that kind of thing.

All creatives are heretics - yet there should be efforts to keep them in the church so long as they are not apostate.

*

Apostates have turned against the church.

And no church can tolerate apostates - because they are a fifth column, eroding the church from within - a parasite, a cancer, a traitor.

(Of course, apostasy is usually covert and disguised - even disguised from the apostate - so must be a matter of judgment.)

*

In other words, a long-term-viable church must (to some significant extent) tolerate heresy among its creatives  - otherwise it will not retain its creatives, then will have no creatives, and the church will die as a result.

And the church must not tolerate apostasy.

(Apostate creatives are indeed especially harmful - if their apostatsy becomes the focus of their creativity, they may tirelessly work at it for decades, focused implicitly on the destruction of the church, and the aiding of those who would destroy it.). 

Yet apostasy is not objectively observable in the way that heresy is; apostasy is a matter of motivation, hence inner. Man cannot know for sure another man's motivation - yet any viable church must make this judgment, and must act upon it.

So the justly-expelled apostate creative can, and often does, create trouble for the church - because there is no objective evidence of his apsotasy, and he will usually deny and conceal his real and destructive motivation (perhaps conceal them even from himself) - and may present himself as arbitrarily victimized or scapegoated for some other behaviour.

Yet despite all this, the church must not tolerate apostasy.

*   

A middle path is necessary - the church must not be subverted, but equally the church must retain and inspire creatives; orthodoxy cannot be imposed on all without excluding creatives, yet excessive license will leave apostates to flourish at the expense of the church

So, this is a tricky problem of the kind for which there is no general solution, but which may potentially be soluble by individual leaders of sufficient knowledge and wisdom and with personal authority - but not a problem that can be dealt with by committees, and certainly not by committee debate and committee-vote of the mass majority of conscientious and empathic people.

**


Note: These reflections came from thinking about the relationship between the LDS church and Sterling McMurrin, as revaled for example in this interview:

PDF file: search the words sterling mcmurrin interview dialogue

McMurrin makes the distinction between heretic and apostate, and describes himself as a heretic but not apostate. That seems to be how he was regarded by the CJCLDS - since he was personally 'managed' by several Presidents of the church, and retained within its community as a loyal advocate - despite his many and large heresies.

The particular interest of the McMurrin story is that the LDS is the most conscientiousness-requiring of all denominations in terms of the calls for missionary, administrative and labouring service made upon its active members; combined with a generally high level of economic-social functioning in 'jobs'; combined with typically large families in which men are enjoined to play an active role.

Combining all these heavy duties creates a stereotypical pattern of hyper-busy and hyper-organized behaviour among the most devout Mormons, which strikes a person of moderately high Psychoticism (such as myself) as nearly-intolerable at best and outright impossible at worst!

Yet, probably due to his Mormon family background, McMurrin was kept on the inside of the LDS and loyal; and a brilliant and very valuable book of Mormon theology was one result. But it took top-level interventions from several Prophets to achieve this.



**



Jesus is the God of the Old Testament 


This is one of the most bizarre of all my experiences since I became a Christian - to discover that (supposedly) all Christians believe that the God of the Old Testament is Jesus.

This was news to me.

*

I first came across this in Mormonism where it is made very clear, explicit and up-front:

[Jesus Christ] “...was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. ‘All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made’ (
John 1:3).

http://lds.org.uk/topics/jesus-christ?lang=eng&country=gb

Thus, no Mormon could be in any doubt about the identity of the God of the Old Testament - this is a primary element framing the religious education and scriptural reading of the convert and of children.

Initially, I supposed that this was one of the distinctive beliefs of Mormons - but no, supposedly all mainstream Christian denominations believe this too!

But unlike Mormons, Mainstream Christians hardly ever mention the fact!

*

It is remarkable that, throughout my whole life (including 7 years at a Church of England Primary School), the idea that Jesus was Jehovah had literally never crossed my mind, and nobody had ever told me about it.

I had always assumed that the God of the Old Testament was God the Father - and that therefore what made Christians different from Jews was that they also believed - from the New Testament - that Jesus was God; in other words, I assumed that the God of the Old Testament (Father), plus Jesus of the New Testament - plus mentions of the Holy Ghost from both Testeaments - were the basis of the Holy Trinity.

Indeed, I had thought that almost everything we knew about God the Father was from His having featured so prominently in the OT.

*

I still find it hard to get my mind around this!

*

Having discovered my mistake, I have for a while been looking out for evidence from the mainstream denominations that they do indeed believe that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament - and I can find precious little.

 Maybe there is some statement somewhere which I have missed - but that is the point: surely something as vital as this should not be possible to miss!

I combed my ESV study Bible, and the notes, for some indication that when God is mentioned or appears in the OT then this was actually Jesus - but I couldn't find any - and there was nothing in the introduction either. Same for the Orthodox Study Bible, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky; and the DK Illustrated Children's Bible.

*

As I say I could have missed the statement that Jehovah is Jesus - but the point is that I was looking for it, and failed to find it!

Surely something as important as this should be stated over and again - with notes to every single appearance or mention of God in the OT to clarify when this refers to Jesus and when to God the Father.

Indeed, there would be a case for preparing a beginners Bible paraphrase in which the OT was rewritten to include the name of Jesus throughout, explaining the nature of his maifestations - as and when appropriate.

*

I find all this extremely weird!

What is the situation, I wonder - do most Christians have the same misconception that I did - that the OT God is God the Father?

And are the theologians just taking it for granted that Christians already know that the OT God is really Jesus (even in introductory material, and material for children) - and they regard this as so obvious that they never need explicitly to mention it, or to clarify the matter to converts and born again Christians?

*

I also find that the fact of Jehovah being Jesus has further implications - for example with respect to Jews. Some Christians assume that - since the only way to salvation is by Jesus - then Jews are excluded from salvation.

Yet if Jews are actually worshipping Jesus as their Lord under the identity of Jehovah/ YHWH, then is it not possible or likely that they will be saved - regardless of their failure to recognize the incarnate Christ?

Seems worth thinking about at any rate - and the fact that I have never heard mention of the question seems strange - if all Mainstream Christians really do already know that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, and have considered the implications of that fact.

**


Note: Interestingly, if you Google this question, many of the top hits are material for the use of those trying to convert Jehovah's Witnesses to Mainstream Protestant Christianity. Again the assumption is that Mainstream Christians all know this already. Yet the Scriptural evidence cited is all indirect and scattered - so that the fact Jehovah is Jesus is NOT easily disocvered from simply reading the Bible: it requires a very comprehensive and detailed knowledge of scripture and the ability to make indirect inferences.



**



Four Christian views of what happens after death


In my (positively prejudiced!) explorations and practices of Mere Christianity - I have noted some sharp differences in the understanding of what happens immediately after death.

Here are brief accounts, necessarily simplistic:

*




1. The Protestant view seems to be that it is at or immediately after the moment of death when the soul is allocated to salvation or judgment.

After that point, nothing can be done to change its ultimate destiny - the final judgment may not be known at this exact point, but it is predestined.

The domain of salvation is restricted to the span of human life.The boundary between time and eternity is the moment of death, and the state of the soul at the moment of transition is therefore permanent and unalterable.

So prayers for the salvation of the dead are at best futile, and at worst a kind of blasphemy - because assuming that human intervention can affect what is between God and the soul of the departed.

*

2. The Eastern Orthodox view seems to be that there is a period of forty days following death during which the soul is evaluated - and during which prayers of the still living may affect this evaluation - then the soul is allocated by the first judgment (awaiting the final judgment).

The domain of salvation extends beyond human life - but is essentially time limited; after which the soul enters eternity, and does not change.

Consequently, prayers for the dead are regarded as necessary, and especially immediately after death.

(The salvific effectuality of later prayers is not ruled-out, but is much less clear.)

*

3. The Roman Catholic view seems to be complex, and I am not sure I have grasped it. After death, most Heaven bound souls require purgatory before Heaven.

There is a strong emphasis on the effectuality of prayers for the dead, but - unlike Orthodoxy - the timing of such prayers  is not critical, and prayer may be retroactive in its effects.

So, the soul is evaluated and purged, and during this process in linear time, the prayers of the living - past, present and future - are all brought to bear on the situation.

The domain of linear time seems to extend beyond the moment of death and to the end of purgatory, at least - which is not a fixed length of time, and perhaps linear time after death is not mapped onto linear time before death; after which the soul enters eternity and does not change.  

*

4. In Mormonism, death is a positive experience of transition to a potentially higher level of exaltation, and necessary to move to the next stage.

Any soul that will consent to be saved (and which has not implicitly rejected salvation by severe and unrepented sin) is evaluated and allocated to its proper place in a multi-level Heaven (or several Heavens); where the possibility of progression upward is open-ended.

In Mormon metaphysics, there is only linear and irreversible time, eternity is simply open ended linear sequential time; so there is no possibility of retroactive prayer being effective - but prayer for the dead may be effective in the sense that there is an 'ongoing process' that may be affected.

*

As the last comment describes, the differences are partly theological and ultimately metaphysical - concerned with time and the nature of eternity.

In some accounts the soul can change its salvific state after death, in other accounts the soul is fixed at death. 

And these differences have a large influence on the nature of Christian practice, and account for many of the most obvious differences between denominations.

For example, when I worship at a Protestant Anglican Church we never pray for the dead; while at Anglo-Catholic Churches we spend a lot of time in prayer for the dead, even in short Masses - and that difference is within a single denomination.



**



The need for an overview of the story of human life


Modern people feel guilty, but they do not repent - and if they do not repent, they cannot be Christian.

So, what blocks repentance?

*

People cannot repent until they know what they should do, and that they are not doing it; and they cannot know what they should do, until they know the structure of reality: the human condition.

If so, it is futile trying to get people to repent when they do not know the structure of reality, and if they deny even that reality even has a structure.

*

Most modern adults are alienated - cut off from reality - and this is experienced as negative emotions: misery, boredom, anger, anxiety, demotivation...

But they do not know what they are alienated from. Therefore nothing can be done about alienation - except distraction and intoxication to stop the feeling (but not the cause).

*

Modern people are stuck. They feel bad and they not only do not know why they feel bad, but they also deny that there is any objective reason for feeling bad except for illness and a repressive 'society' - therefore a religion which tells modern people to repent is interpreted as deliberately making people who already feel bad, feel even worse. Which seems like a very nasty thing to do.

*

So, what should be the first step in modern deep apologetics?

Whatever the first step in apologetics it will be incomplete, because it is the first step. Its main role is to provide what is necessary to back-reference when the further steps are added (IF things get even that far).

My present notion is that the first step should be to describe the basic set-up, the human condition and relation to God the Father and Jesus Christ - the story of the history of Man: where we came from and where we are going.

*

This story must be truthful, of course! - and must also be inspiring - if it is to be useful.

But the truthfulness of the very first brief outline must be carefully considered, in the sense that any brief outline must omit mention of difficulties that cannot be dealt with without interrupting the story: this is just common sense about how to teach.

In teaching something difficult, you first of all give the whole thing, stated clearly and didactically in plain language (minimal jargon) without qualifications or quibbles  -  and only then, once people have 'got' that simple version, you go back over the story adding nuances, discussing difficulties or ambiguities, teasing out implications etc.

*

The is what Christians need to do for the modern audience - each Christian denomination needs to reflect on this matter, and work on telling the story of Man and God for the first time: what to include as necessary for further building, what to leave-out as misleading, what to emphasize as interesting and inspiring.

If people understand the basic story of human life, they can then understand the nature of sin and why sin is (objectively) sin; because then they understand what they are sinning-against: only then can modern people repent.

**


Note: I recognized the need for this after reflecting on the content of the published manuals for Mormon missionaries - and the prominence given to The Plan of Salvation.

https://www.lds.org/manual/the-plan-of-salvation/the-plan-of-salvation?lang=eng

Here the LDS church sets out from its own perspective 'the basic story' of the human condition, God's relations with Man; describes it very clearly and in a way which is potentially both interesting and exciting/ inspiring. Once this basic story is understood, then more detailed discussions can be related back to it, and questions can be answered by reference to the overall Plan.

I think other Christian denominations ought to be able to generate a comparably brief, simple, clear, and inspiring account of the basic story of Man and God, from their own perspective.

*

Further note: I am not interested in publishing comments critical of the Mormon Missionary Manual, nor of Mormonism -  I am referencing this manual as a good example of the kind of thing which is needed, and to make clear that most Christian denominations do not provide anything half so useful for apologetics.

**



Spiritual pride and theosis



The sin of spiritual pride is a focus of the ascetic monastic tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. It is also recognized by the Western Catholic tradition - although not given such prominence; and indeed by monastic Zen Buddhists.

*

Spiritual pride is the particular sin of those who embark upon a personal quest for holiness, for sanctity (the path to Sainthood), for theosis (becoming more like God) - and the sin is something like regarding one's own will as if it were the divine will - or perhaps being deceived into regarding demonic promptings as if they were divine.

The particular problem of spiritual pride, is that the person who suffers it imagines they are at a higher spiritual level than those around them, and so becomes immune to advice, warning, criticism.

The Eastern Orthodox antidote is to embark on ascetic disciplines only under supervision of a spiritual Father - and initially in a monastic (group) setting, with the monks 'looking out for each other'.

The assumption is that the spiritual Father has attained a sufficiently high level of theosis that he can detect and help solve the problems in the apprentice; and the apprentice must, for his own good, submit to this authority. The religious life is thus transmitted from Master to apprentice in an unbroken chain - implicitly originating and emanating from the Apostles at the time of Christ. (

However, it seems that the chain of tradition has been broken in many or most places in the world, which means that this method of attaining theosis is no longer possible - at least for most people in most places.)

*

My impression is that spiritual pride is especially a problem of spiritual ambition, when spiritual ambition is contaminated by the desire for one's own power and glory - e.g. the desire to make a 'successful career' of being a recognized Holy Man (rather like those fake 'gurus' of the 1960s), or simply the status of holiness - even purely the the self-satisfied 'smugness' of regarding oneself as of higher holiness than others.

*

Yet of course spiritual ambition is in itself 'a good thing' - and very necessary in a world such as ours where spirituality is at a pitifully low ebb.

But it seems that an onslaught on spirituality, aided by fasting, many hours of prayer, vigils (staying awake all night to pray) is - while often effective - hazardous; and hazardous in a similar way to the 1960s use of psychedelic drugs to create spiritual experiences - selfish, evil, demonic experiences are mistaken for insights, miracles and divine revelations.

These smack of a very modern impatience, sensation-seeking, mere curiosity, desire for novelty and impressive, extreme, experiences which can be boasted about.

*

It might have been expected that, on theological grounds, the Mormon religion would be especially prone to spiritual pride - since it makes theosis (called exaltation) into a central tenet: we are God's children - hence of the same nature as the divine - in a much more literal sense than in mainstream Christianity; there is a different concept of The Fall, thus no Original Sin to 'worry about'; and there is at least a remote and theoretical potential of each human becoming a God (under God the Father, but of similar scope) - which would seem like a very direct invitation to arrogance, selfishness.

Furthermore, all Mormons are told to ask for and expect to receive personal divine revelations - direct communications from God - to guide them through life

And yet spiritual pride is not a particular feature of Mormons nor much of a problem in the LDS church.

*

This apparent relative immunity to spiritual pride (at least, compared with other Christian traditions which emphasize theosis/ sanctification) may be related to the much more human ('anthropomorphic') understanding of God.

Mormons would tend to regard God the Father as a vast, almost infinite amplification of Man - i.e. starting from Man; while most mainstream Christian theology starts with abstract definitions of God, and tries to move towards Man - but typically cannot get very far with the comparison. It is a matter of starting at opposite ends.

Terryl and Fiona Givens - writing in The God Who Weeps - also suggest that the traditional Mormon emphasis has been much less on a God of infinite Power and Glory, and more on a God of infinite love and compassion (as depicted in the weeping God of Enoch's experience and depicted in the scripture Moses 7: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/moses/7?lang=eng).

To become ever more like a God the Father whose love is 'infinite' such that his suffering for the sins of the world is 'infinite' (like the mortal earthly Father of a vast family of deeply loved and profoundly suffering children) is not really the kind of goal likely to be provoking of spiritual pride.

*

Another difference is that the Mormon spiritual life is ideally in a family context - not a monastery nor in solitude.This guards against the many problems of ascetic monasticism.

Indeed, the opposite problem of worldly busy-ness - too much social doing, and not enough solitude, contemplation and prayer - would seem to be the characteristic limitation of Mormon spirituality.

*

Another difference is that for Mormons the path of theosis (exaltation) goes beyond death into the next life - and indeed stretches out into infinity.

Mormons may be aiming to become a God at some point in the unimaginably remote future, but in the meantime the main business is the hourly, daily, yearly business of living by the Commandments, working, serving, striving and so on - and this continues into the after life.

In other words, for Mormons there is not much sense of urgency about theosis - quite the reverse, since it stretches into an eternal future - exaltation it is mostly a matter for patience and endurance.

*

This is in stark contrast to mainstream Christianity where sanctification/ theosis is urgent and the clock of mortality is ticking.

Protestants generally regard spiritual progress as stopping at the instant of death, at which point the possibilities of salvation are fixed.

Catholics acknowledge a short period of potential spiritual development after death (e.g. the forty days of Orthodoxy or Roman Catholic purgatory) during which salvation/ theosis may be affected - but this seems to be conceptualized as a period when the soul may be helped by the intercessions of others, rather than its own efforts.


*

All this is very important stuff, to my understanding, since sanctification/ theosis/ exaltation is the main business of our continued experience of mortal life - it is what we ought to be focused on as our main business, day by day, hour by hour, year on year.

The main business of incarnate mortal life is - as the name implies - to experience 1. living in a body, and 2. dying. It is these which are the essence of this life we live - and these are experienced by everybody.

*

Beyond that, human experience is very varied - some die in the womb, or as infants, others live for varying times and in varying circumstances. The question is, beyond the necessity of not-rejecting that salvation which Christ has given us - what should we do with our days?

The answer is theosis - so we are called-upon to be spiritually ambitious, to progress as far as we can towards divinity during incarnate mortal life.

Therefore (assuming the above reasoning is correct), theosis is a topic which deserves, which requires, a lot more consideration than it is given in most Christian traditions.



**



The King Follet Discourse – pushing back the infinities…


The King Follett sermon or 'discourse' was a speech made by Joseph Smith shortly before he was killed. The speech was not written but extemporized, and was taken down by various observers - and therefore the primary record is a parallel text by multiple hands:
King Follett is non-canonical for the LDS church - being very obviously a kind of 'thinking aloud', a philosophical speculation on the apparent implications of Mormon theology (in other words, the Prophet was not prophesying at this moment).

*

I find it a wonderful speech - and it elucidates for me the interplay between what is assumed and fixed in Mormonism, and what are possible consequences of these assumptions, but which are not of the essence.

*

The discourse reveals that the aspects of Mormon theology which seem strangest (and attract most horror and ridicule) are in fact a (speculative) consequence of following up several steps of implications from the primary assumptions of the nature of God and His relationship to Man.

Probably, all metaphysical systems contain infinities - in Classical Christian theology the infinities are given to God - creation from nothing, omnipotence/omniscience, omnipresence and the like. The basic metaphysic is one of statis.

For Mormonism the God of the Bible has none of these attributes; and God is our loving Father primarily and as literally as possible.

The infinities are pushed back and back, until they are out of the realm of our concern altogether - an infinite regress of other Gods in other universes unknown - which are logically implied, but are nothing to do with us in this world, with one God. The monotheism is what matters to us, here now and forever; the polytheism is an answer to a philosophical question. 

*

Another thing to look out for in King Follett is the dynamic nature of Mormonism (in contrast to stasis). The condition for God and for Man is one of eternal progression (another abstract infinite - no bound can be put to progression, exaltation, glory - in a particular sense, not even for God).

But since dynamism is nonsense if everything changes - progression also implies a stasis, against which progress is measured. Thus the necessary eternal existence of matter and laws of the universe 'within which' God works and progresses. Instead of creation from nothing, the Mormon view is that the primary things 'always' existed (from eternity) and always will exist, being re-organizable but indestructible.

In sum, this represents the final stage in a truly amazing theological achievement - one which quite simply, and therefore triumphantly, solves many of the most obvious and troubling - and, I believe, ineradicable - theoretical problems due to the conflict between classical philosophy and Christianity.

* *



As I have said before, I am by nature a pluralist - which is why I have gravitated to Mormon theology (my take on Mormon theology is that it is Christian pluralism).

*

One way of thinking about this is the infinite regress problem, which children often discover for themselves.

What causes this? Answer given: this is caused by that. Yes but what causes that, and then what causes that... and so on, and on... forever?

An infinite regress? 

Well then no, not forever.

*

The only thing that can stop the regress is an uncaused cause - something which makes other things happen but not in response to other things happening.

Something which is an origin of action.

(This is also something with free will. Free will is an uncaused cause.)

 *

So... everything that happens can be traced back to an uncaused cause.

But how many uncaused causes? - One, or more than one; one or many? Monism or pluralism?

To answer the question one uncaused cause, versus many uncaused causes, is apparently a matter of intuition, a metaphysical assumption; undecidable on the basis of evidence.

And undecidable on the basis of Christian revelation.

*

Most Christians are monists and trace all causes back to one God.

This leads to a problem when considering Jesus and the Holy Trinity in general. Is Jesus an uncaused cause, or not? If so, then God is two; if not then Jesus is just an aspect of God: inessential. This problem has not been solved by monism (only obscured by sleight of language).

Monism also leads to the problem that humans have no free will, since all causes are traced back to God. Insofar that Jesus is essential to our salvation, and insofar as free will is essential to Christianity, then monism is deficient.

*

Pluralists like me believe there are more-than-one/ many uncaused causes; so Jesus and the Trinity is not a problem - Father, sona and Holy ghost are all uncaused causes; and free will is not a problem (since each humans is an uncaused cause).

But it is messy! To a monist it is unacceptably messy - it just can't be true!

But a pluralist feels this is intuitively right; that reality is many not one, that there are many uncaused causes interacting, will be forever, and always have been...

**





Christianity and world history


I do have views on what I understand to be 'God's plan' or 'God's hopes' about the nature and role of some churches and nations - but there is no possibility of persuading other people of the correctness of my beliefs, and it would be dangerous to try.

So I will not argue or defend these views - nor will I respond to challenges or requests to do so; I merely state them.

For what they are worth; I believe that the way God works in history is to support the best possibilities as they emerge through human choices; but people often, usually, choose wickedness,  - later if not sooner - often encouraged by demonic influences - and therefore these plans and hopes get sabotaged and new ones must be launched.

*

I presume that the focus of world Christianity was the Roman Empire and its continuation in Constantinople then Moscow - but that God foresaw how this was crumbling towards destruction (which actually happened, from evil choices encouraged by demonic influences, in 1917).

I believe God also supported the best manifestations of the Western breakaway churches, including the (many) good features of the Reformation; and including the early Church of England translations of scriptures (to form a basis for English-speaking Christians).

I also believe that God enabled and has sustained the Mormon church - and its 'timing' to emerge as so many other Christian churches in the West are corrupting, crumbling and dying.

*

The focus of Christianity has roots, but also has moved around the world; the Holy Ghost being most active at one place at one time, and another place at another time - especially in relation to anything which is or may become a Christian empire.

In this sense I think it likely that the USA both has been, and was meant to become, the focus of world Christianity - at least since the apostasy and de facto secularization (and then decline) of the British Empire.

This kind of thing has various indices - but missionary activity is one of them. Britain was the main source of missionaries until this 'role' was taken over by the US - and Britain has been a major recipient of missionary activity since the mid-20th century.

But of course, the nation of the USA has not lived-up-to these hopes (although until recent decades there was hope that it might) and has now become (and is becoming ever more so) via the mass media perhaps the most significant anti-Christian influence in the world.

*

So I am sure that there is divine providence, but not destiny, nor fate - Men may sabotage almost anything Good, if and when they choose evil; they may also repent (since evil cannot be complete, and in Men there is always an incorrupt residue, a fragment of Goodness, that cannot be obliterated).

While I am not sure I understand providence, neither am I convinced that other people understand it better than me - especially when such people clearly display hard-heartedness, lust for destruction and domination, and hatred when discussing these matters (as do so many supposedly orthodox or traditional 'Christian' bloggers and commenters!).

I am also sure that we each need to do our best to understand the broad workings of providence - to feel the movement and direction of the Holy Ghost - by the discernment of the heart; especially so as to avoid inadvertently sabotaging providence by fighting against God's actual energies, plans and hopes.

**



As I have said before, I am by nature a pluralist - which is why I have gravitated to Mormon theology (my take on Mormon theology is that it is Christian pluralism).

*

One way of thinking about this is the infinite regress problem, which children often discover for themselves.

What causes this? Answer given: this is caused by that. Yes but what causes that, and then what causes that... and so on, and on... forever?

An infinite regress? 

Well then no, not forever.

*

The only thing that can stop the regress is an uncaused cause - something which makes other things happen but not in response to other things happening.

Something which is an origin of action.

(This is also something with free will. Free will is an uncaused cause.)

 *

So... everything that happens can be traced back to an uncaused cause.

But how many uncaused causes? - One, or more than one; one or many? Monism or pluralism?

To answer the question one uncaused cause, versus many uncaused causes, is apparently a matter of intuition, a metaphysical assumption; undecidable on the basis of evidence.

And undecidable on the basis of Christian revelation.

*

Most Christians are monists and trace all causes back to one God.

This leads to a problem when considering Jesus and the Holy Trinity in general. Is Jesus an uncaused cause, or not? If so, then God is two; if not then Jesus is just an aspect of God: inessential. This problem has not been solved by monism (only obscured by sleight of language).

Monism also leads to the problem that humans have no free will, since all causes are traced back to God. Insofar that Jesus is essential to our salvation, and insofar as free will is essential to Christianity, then monism is deficient.

*

Pluralists like me believe there are more-than-one/ many uncaused causes; so Jesus and the Trinity is not a problem - Father, sona and Holy ghost are all uncaused causes; and free will is not a problem (since each humans is an uncaused cause).

But it is messy! To a monist it is unacceptably messy - it just can't be true!

But a pluralist feels this is intuitively right; that reality is many not one, that there are many uncaused causes interacting, will be forever, and always have been...




**


Reading Old Books about Mormons


 I spent an interesting few hours looking through some old books about Mormons which were in the collection at The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne - a prestigious provincial club and library dating founded in 1793.

What I found surprised me in several ways. There were plenty of books on "The Mormons" dating from about 100 years ago - which was the first surprise; the second surprise was how very, very strongly anti-Mormon they were; the third surprise was the utterly outrageous things they said.

The oldest account was of Lord Redesdale's visit of 1873 (published in his Memoirs of 1915):

Brigham Young was all-powerful, bearing a more undisputed mastery than king or tsar or kaiser. He was a law unto himself, and had his Vehmgericht, or rather was also a secret court unto himself. True, there was no Folterkammer, no eiserne Jungfrau, but those old methods were out of date ; the revolver and the bowie-knife were swifter and as sure ; Jordan was the oubliette. There has been some attempt to deny the existence of the Danites or Destroying Angels who were Brigham Young's executioners. That is futile, for the men, as I can testify, were as well known in Salt Lake City as the Prophet, and the Old Man of the Mountain himself was not more faithfully or more bloodily served by his hashishin than was the Lion of the Lord by his band of bravos. There were whole-sale murders like the Mountain Meadow Massacre, but there were also other crimes, secret murders actuated by private spite, jealousy or lust, the stories of which are well known to those behind the scenes in Zion. It was not healthy for a man to incur the wrath of the Prophet or of the leading Saints. It was not conducive to long life to love a maid or wed a wife upon whom the eyes of one of the holy ones might have fallen.

*

The Mystery of Mormonism by Stuart Martin (1920) presents itself as a balanced view - in between the official church history and the more sensational anti-Mormon books.

Its introduction ends like this:

Since Mormonism was born in that small wood its story has been mostly tragic, with here and there a gleam of heroism lighting up the dull, terrible sadness of pitiful, wasted effort and misguided action. The scars of its sufferings are plainly marked upon Mormonism ; and, if the creed is to live, its final adjustment to the demands of the civilisation of the twentieth century has yet to be made. The author has tried to indicate what that adjustment demands of Mormonism, and how the finer men and women of the Church shrink from the coming crisis. When the adjustment takes place — as it inevitably will, though most likely by slow degrees — the Mormonism of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young will be strangled in Utah, and the last vestige of its abominations will disappear.

The final word is as follows:

As for the religious part of Mormonism, its doom is clear. It is the author's belief that before long it will be attacked, and it will crumble before the attack. Its wave of fervour is nearly spent, and in the day when it is finally attacked by its opponents this organisation, which has been a thorn in the flesh of the great American Republic since it was founded in 1830, will vanish as a creed. In that day Mormonism — the Mormonism which has quarrelled with every neighbour it has had, the Mormonism the history of which is one black page in the story of the United States — will cease to exist. Rent by internal schisms, attacked by forces as relentless as Knowledge and as powerful as Time, it will ultimately totter to a gaping grave ; to a tomb dug by itself. When that day comes, the last vestige of the abominations of Mormonism, as its founders intended it to be, will disappear from the earth, and the name of Joseph Smith will be but the memory of a man who, in his delusion, founded a gigantic fraud.

*

That may sound pretty extreme - however Brigham Young and the Mormon Empire by Frank J Cannon and George L Knapp (1913) goes even further. This has Brigham Young engaged in wholesale castration and assassination related to his "modern gospel of human sacrifice".

That's correct: human sacrifice.

After that there isn't really any further to go.

*

Still, the other books had their moments.

I Woodbridge Riley's The founder of Mormonism: a psychological study of Joseph Smith Jr (1902) has the following heading for its final section: "Was He Demented or Merely Degenerate" (he seems to suggest both at once).

R Kauffman and RW Kauffman take a different angle in The Latter Day Saints: a study of the Mormons in the light of economic conditions (1912) - they see the Mormon phenomena from a socialistic perspective in terms of just another instance of capitalistic exploitation, on a gigantic scale. But for the Kauffman's that is all any religion ever is.

*

If the books written about the Mormons were indescribably hostile and foolish - books written by visitors to Salt Lake City tended to be very positive.

Charles B Spahr wrote an interesting account of America's Working People (1899,1900) in which he visited New England, Chicago, The South and various other places to report on conditions. He was very impressed, on the whole, by what he saw in Salt Lake City:

The general level of morality is unquestionably high. Inquiry at police headquarters confirmed the Mormon claim that the Mormon population hardly figured at all among those arrested for crime or disorder, or among those who ministered for gain to criminal and vicious tastes.

But the statistics were the least trustworthy signs of the high morality. The real evidence of it was in the care for the poor, the temperance, the thrift, and the public spirit, that were apparent.

There was, however, one point upon which the impression revived was distinctly unfavourable, and this was the supremely important matter of sexual morality. (...) But what I heard from frank and conscientious Mormons in deprecation of these charges, even more than what I heard from Gentiles in their support, convinced me that the sin of polygamy in the fathers was bearing its fitting fruit in an epidemic of sexual immorality among the children. (...)

Nevertheless the impressions I received in the streets and from the testimony of scandal-hating people, without regard to creed, convinced me that sexual morality in Utah was much lower than in any other American community I had visited, and but little higher than in Continental Europe.

*

That point point about sexual morality being a weak point (the one-and-only weak point) of Mormons a century ago, makes for an interesting contrast with modern times. And it is perhaps an encouragement to modern Mormons.

*

A Church of England Priest the Rev. HW Haweis published Travel Talk in 1896 in which he reported on a vist to Salt Lake City of 1893:

...what I saw and what everyone may see spoke for itself. I saw a happy and contented people, a clean and sanitary city (...) neat houses and prosperous farms, well-behaved children, venerable elders, agreeable and cultivated ladies... 

*

The fascinating thing is that we now know that the travellers' eye witness accounts were correct, and the surprising numbers of people who wrote specialist (referenced, supposedly scholarly) books about 'The Mormons' - several of which were distributed some 5000 miles way to Newcastle upon Tyne England - were wrong; very wrong, absurdly and wickedly wrong.

This strikes me as an early example of political correctness based on and in the mass media. 

*

One more matter. When I became interested in Mormonism a few years ago I got the impression that the Mountain Meadows Massacre was something which had been hidden and suppressed until recently; and it was an atrocity that modern Mormons were supposedly having to come to terms with.

Not so. It features in all these early anti-Mormon books and the Rev Haweis goes so far as to remark on the "everlastingly quoted Mountain Massacre".

So, not such new news, after all...

*

All in all - my morning in the library confirms CS Lewis's advice on the value of Reading Old Books.

* *



Christianity and the shape of history


The grand strategy of Christianity in relation to the world is something that I find myself speculating upon from time to time.

Given the long wait of the ancient Hebrews for Messiah, it would seem that there needed to be social preconditions for the Incarnation to stand its best chance of achieving its goals.

Because human free will is real, and Men are and were free to reject salvation; so social conditions - specifically the state of Mens' minds - is important; thus God must work with society, as best as may be.

*

It would seem that the pagan Roman Empire provided the best chance for the Gospel - since it was both multi-national and highly religious (multi-religion): providing the optimal possibilities for the new faith to spread (i.e. the best chance that many Men would choose Christ).

It is to the credit of the many individuals who embraced Christianity under the pagan Emperors, that the Empire swiftly became Christian with the foundation of the Second Rome at Constantinople.

The Christian Roman Empire endured for over a thousand years; after which a Third Rome (self-consciously so) emerged in Moscow - to end utterly in 1917.

*

Always it seems that God works to spread his Gospel; and Empire is one way this may happen - but only if Men will it.

Many Empires have arisen in Christendom, and it is as-if some were hoped, or perhaps intended, to become the site of the Fourth Rome and a new Christian Roman Empire.

Medieval and modern Western Europe as a whole had opportunities, but in the end Men chose schism and warfare over the possibility of Christian Empire; and the individual states rejected Christianity as the focus of their societies, hence incipient Empires were not primarily Christian and missionary, but at best the Gospel would follow-behind commercial and military priorities.

Perhaps Madrid, or Paris, or Amsterdam, or London, or Berlin was meant to be a Fourth Rome - but no, it did not happen.

*

Meanwhile, a New World was found; and North America became a focus of Christian hopes, then a place where the ground was prepared by phases of revival.

Perhaps there was the divine intention of a North American Christian empire with Philadelphia as the Fourth Rome?

But the US people en masse, as a whole, chose otherwise; and descended into civil war, materialism, another civil war, and modernity.

*

The emergence of Mormonism was another chance, with great possibilities and remarkable achievements emerging rapidly and very obvious - but the national response was instead to seek extermination of the budding movement; again, and again, and again.

Extermination of the Mormon religion was the national, indeed, international, choice of Men.

The policy of extermination failed in that objective; but the policy nonetheless successfully prevented what might, perhaps, have become a Mormon Empire; with Salt Lake City emerging as the Fourth Rome.

*

Behind all this I imagine Jesus Christ working tirelessly to expand the possibilities of spreading His Gospel - often aiming at the 'ideal' of a Christian Empire - a Fourth Rome, a Third Byzantium; but always, necessarily, working via the free choices of Men.

Also, I imagine the workings of His Adversary Satan and his minions; also tireless in his spreading of lies, encouragement of hatred, selfishness, short-termism; destruction of beauty and virtue...

...focusing his destructive efforts often on any budding hopes of Christian Empire...

...aiming to subvert, destroy and invert; aiming to infiltrate and convert any existing Good Empire into a Demonic Empire.

(...such as The West has now become - reaching-out internationally to attack Good, to destabilize and foment civil violence and war. The demonic Empire of the West may seem to be a failure - and by conventional military standards it surely is - but in the past fifteen years it has triumphantly succeeded in facilitating, enabling and concealing the torment and killing of millions of Christians worldwide; especially in the Middle East and Africa. Clearly, at some level, that is its primary strategy.)

*

It really is much, much easier (requires less time, effort, resources) to destroy than to create order.

It is easier to pursue short-term and selfish goals than to love patiently.

Hence Good is always swimming against the stream of natural resistance.

In the end, the prophecies are of utter failure, on this earth - with destruction of the world.

*

This world is doomed as surely as Ragnarok seemed inevitable to the Norse pagans; and the Giants of disorder and destruction shall eventually triumph despite the courage of the heroes.

Yet Ragnarok will be (and is being) delayed; for so long as fresh souls are being saved. 

Ragnarok will happen, the pagans were correct about that; but Christians know there is another and better world to come after Ragnarok - and that makes all the difference.

* *



Mother in Heaven


One of the values of having a metaphysical stance which includes the possibility of It Just Is as an acceptable terminus to the demand for causal explanation - is that it ends the infinite regress, and the problems which that brings with it.

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/three-ultimate-metaphysical.html

*

The Mormon belief is that we are in some literal sense the children of God. then there is the fact that on earth children are produced by two parents. Further, the Mormon doctrine is that all Men are either male or female from before mortal life - and the complete unity of Man is therefore the dyad - a couple sealed in eternal marriage.

Considered together, all these tend to imply that God the Father must also have a 'consort' specifically a Wife, and also a Father and Mother in infinite regress.

God's wife is termed Mother in Heaven.

http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Mother_in_Heaven

*

I would classify the belief in a Mother in Heaven as (on the whole) mostly a 'folk' belief among Mormons because it is not required of Mormons, and there is virtually nothing on the topic (explicitly) in Mormon scriptures, and the belief in a Mother in Heaven has from not-much to zero impact on the major aspects of Mormon life and discourse.

On the other hand, belief in a Mother in Heaven is not ruled-out by LDS authorities (as the linked entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism makes clear) - and the reality of a Mother in Heaven has apparently been a belief held by Presidents and other General Authorities (including, probably, Joseph Smith  - if the King Follett discourse is regarded as definitive rather than speculative thinking-aloud).  

*

The Mormon belief in a Mother in Heaven is therefore not so much a matter of revelation or teaching, as a matter of the logical extrapolation of implicit doctrine.

If the principle of parenthood is taken to be universal, then every person must have two parents - including God the Father - ergo God must have a Wife , and must have been the Son of another God.

But the principle of parenthood need not apply to God the Father.

If God the Father Just Is - eternally; then he may also be:

1. The unique instance of a parentless personage; and also

2. The unique example of a being neither male nor female, but one who alone is able to procreate spiritual children.

*

Indeed, if these two things are accepted as part of primary reality (they Just Are); then this disposes of almost all the most significant arguments that Mormons are not-Christian.

Because such a God is the One God - past, present and future; He is primary, unique, eternal, unbegotten, Father of all - and so on.

In sum, God the Father is not just the one God of this universe, but the one God of all reality - and He is unique in his Nature.

*

To assume that God the Father Just Is also disposes of any necessity for positing a Mother in Heaven.

My impression is that the Mother in Heaven is a long way from being central to Mormon doctrine - since it is possible to go for months, or even years, of reading books, articles, theology and journalism about Mormonism and not to come across any reference to Mother in Heaven: indeed, to forget about the idea altogether...

*

My interpretation is that some Mormons have been led, by their metaphysical assumptions concerning the universality of sex and parenthood, to generate theological modifications including infinite-regress of parents (and universes) and  a Wife for God the Father - but these additions have made very little (if any) difference to the actual 'popular' daily beliefs and practices of most devout Mormons.

*

In this respect, it seems that the Mormon Mother in Heaven has developed in a manner opposite to the Roman Catholic conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Mother of God.

In the Catholic tradition, the veneration of Mary was first established in the popular everyday practice of liturgy, prayer, iconography, art and devotional life generally - and only later, sometimes many centuries later - were theological modifications (e.g. the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception) introduced to justify and explain these practices.

So the Catholic Mother of God was venerated in practice primarily and long before theory; while the Mormon Mother in Heaven seems to be mostly (for most people) a projection of theological theory; and not much (or at all) venerated in practice.

* *



Wives and husbands – to submit or to complement?



Traditional Mainstream Christians (Protestants and Catholics) tend to insist that in a marriage the wife should "submit" to her husband - that specific word submit is used a lot.

By contrast, Mormons (who are - let's be honest - the experts on marriage and family in the modern world, and who are free-er of the taint of liberalism/ leftism/ feminism than most other Christian denominations) say the following:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.

Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children


In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.


Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.


From The Family - a proclamation to the world:

http://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation

*

I think Mormons are absolutely correct to emphasize complementarity of distinct domains within the 'standard' marriage rather than dominance-submission.

In any specific domain one or other sex has the responsibility; but neither has overall dominance; neither is overall required to submit.

(Complementarity of husband and wife is, of course, a fundamental part of Mormon theology; in that husband and wife both need each other for optimal theosis and progression to the highest Heaven or celestial kingdom. Also, note the important supplementary passage on the contingent need for individual adaptation.)

*

And this difference within marriage corresponds to my observation that Mormon women have a large, important and distinct role in the LDS church; while, by contrast, among traditional Mainstream Christians (such as conservative evangelicals) women typically have a very subordinate, less essential and indistinct role in the church - defined by exclusion and patronage - rather than an 'of right' complementarity.

Both the CJCLDS and traditional Mainstream Christians are patriarchal religions - but to formulate this in terms of 'submission' creates (I believe) a false, and sometimes hazardous, tendency for Christianity to collapse into the pattern of its most formidable rival - a patterns which is goes against the grain of Christianity's fundamental nature.

This tendency of traditional mainstream Christianity institutionally to marginalize women can be resisted, and often it has been and is resisted; but the tendency remains because it is theologically rooted.

*

NOTE: In the above passage from the Proclamation, I dislike the use of the word 'equal' because equal, in practice, gets to mean sameness; and the sexes are not the same - they just are complementary.

**

FURTHER NOTE: The mistake people make in this (and other) matters regarding complementarity is that they look for symmetry. In fact, complementarity is necessary precisely because of the lack of symmetry.

The primary thing about family (for Mormons) is motherhood, which can be defined quickly, simply, single word. Fatherhood is secondary and needs more words to describe. Women are (in essence) mothers, (worthy) men are priests - but motherhood and priesthood are not symmetrical. Very obviously not!

(For Mormons) Healthy women just are mothers, but men must be worthy to be priests. In the church the priesthood is primary, in the family motherhood is primary - but not in the same way. The priesthood and Relief society (the women's organization) are complementary in the church, but not symmetrical - and the priesthood is primary.

In Catholic Christianity celibacy is primary, men are primary - because men are priests. Motherhood comes below celibacy, and celibate female religious are not necessary. The church is necessary for salvation - but only men are necessary to the church: therefore women are not (religiously) necessary to Catholics.

In traditional Protestant denominations, the family comes above celibacy, but men dominate the family and the church alike, in a symmetrical fashion; because men are always the leaders and women must always submit (whatever the circumstances). In religious terms, men and women are individuals and equivalent in value. Women are not religiously necessary, but neither are men, except in the church - but (for Protestants) the church is not necessary.

And in Christianity's most formidable rival something similar prevails: all men submit to God, men have duties of worship, all women submit to all men, women are not religiously necessary.

Only in Mormonism are both men and women necessary and also the church necessary; but not to salvation, only to the higher levels of theosis. 



**



How Mormons looks to Mainstream Christians is pretty much how Mainstream Christians look to secular culture


Given that mainstream Leftist secular culture is so obviously bankrupt - intellectually, artistically, and especially morally; given that mainstream secular culture is filled with despair - so very obviously engaged in ever-more frenzied distraction and intoxication - a society without hope, without purpose, without meaning - self-hating and suicidal - attaining motivation only in self-righteous hatred...

Given all this, Mainstream real Christians often find it hard to understand why secular society, secular people, don't simply admit their failure and turn back to religion - but instead adopt an ever-more hostile and ridiculing attitude to Christianity.

*

To understand this, Mainstream real Christians might reflect on their own attitude to Mormonism - the a priori negativity, the wilful ignorance, the prevailing attitude of incredulity, hostility and ridicule.

*

Secular people see Christian beliefs through negative spectacles, as merely ridiculous - childish, absurd, wishful thinking, arbitrary stuff conjured out of nothing with zero evidence: actually embarrassing.

For seculars, it is not a matter of Christians being wrong 'on balance', or them having some validity but but more wrong than right - Christianity is simply bizarre.

Secular people find it incomprehensible that any sane and intelligent person could believe the utter nonsense that Christians believe.

Therefore, it is inferred that Christians are neither sane nor intelligent, and logically must be treated as idiots or lunatics - capable of doing great harm (if given the chance) - and therefore, necessarily, people who ought to be excluded from all positions of power, responsibility or influence (including parenthood).  

*

Against this, actual Christian behaviour is irrelevant - how Christians actually behave in the real world is completely and totally irrelevant.

It does not matter one jot whether actual Christians are generally nice to seculars, have (overall) better ethics, make better neighbours, are more fertile, have stronger marriages, are more charitable, are happier, more hopeful, more motivated and find their lives meaningful.

What Christians actually do in real life and personal experience makes not the slightest difference - because, 'unfortunately' from the secular perspective Christians are cringe-inducing idiots and lunatics, who believe nonsense for no reason - and people like that (obviously!) need to be watched and cannot be trusted.

*

And (mutatis mutandis) it is much the same for Mainstream Christians with respect to Mormons.

*

So, if Mainstream Christians struggle to comprehend why it is that they are damned-if-they-do and damned-if-they-don't by secular culture; why despite all attempts of all kinds, they have zero impact on Mainstream attitudes - they merely need to look within: look at their own attitudes to the Mormon church.

As Mainstream Christians find Mormonism to be merely a mixture of fraud, gullibility, oppression, cultic manipulation, wishful-thinking - and sinister ulterior purpose - that is how you look to the secular world (in so far as you are devout real Christians).

*

Christianity is judged not by results, but by its assumed-intent; not by (overall) behaviour, but by a negatively-framed and selected perception of its ideology and the - possible, inferred - consequences of that perceived-ideology.

The more that Christians succeed in living Good lives, the more that secular culture sees the results as a product of weird, zombie-like fanaticism.   

Mainstream real Christian: Consider how Mormons look to you; that is pretty much how you look to secular people.

*

Mainstream Christians must strive to lead good lives, of course; but should not suppose that doing so will have a political effect, should not suppose that being good Christians will bring secular culture even one millimetre closer to repentance and conversion.

Even if mainstream Christian denominations succeeded in living as well as the best Mormons - and they have a long way to go to achieve this - then they could not expect that this would have any greater effect on secular culture than the exemplary qualities of Mormon life have had on Mainstream Christianity.

The root problem with modernity is not (real) Christians' behaviour and attitudes to secular culture; but the opposite. And this may be something that Christians cannot fix.

It may, indeed, be something that is unfixable - as was so often the case in the Old Testament (or, for that matter, The Book of Mormon).    

**



Evidential basis of the Book of Mormon



In a nutshell, I regard the matter of the evidential nature of the Book of Mormon (BoM) as a microcosm of the nature of Mormonism, which is itself a microcosm of Christianity.

That is to say there is evidence on both sides - evidence that the Book of Mormon is true - in the sense of being what it says it is; and other evidence that it is not true.

So that there are grounds for belief and also grounds to reject belief - and ultimately there is a choice to be made.

*

As Terryl Givens has said, the whole way that the production, the existence, of the Book of Mormon explains itself, and the way the BoM was explained-by Joseph Smith - with such concrete exactness and wealth of specific detail (the size, weight, location of the gold plates, the instruments of translation, the convoluted history of the visitations and manuscript etc.) presents a stark dichotomy: either such an elaborate and concrete story is basically true (with some inevitable human errors and distortions), or it is an elaborate and deliberate fraud (a fiction grossly elaborated from a mere handful of unremarkable facts).

*

And - because the BoM is the root and basis of the LDS church, the same argument applies to Mormonism - it is either essentially what it says it is, or else an elaborate and deliberate fraud.

*

The evidence is not all on one side, there is a significant balance of evidence; not equal balance - whatever that would mean - but the mass of unbelievers cannot accurately or honestly say there is nothing (or nothing significant) to be said in favour of the reality of the BoM and Mormonism itself; nor can Mormons accurately or honestly state that the evidence for the book and the faith is overwhelming and could only be rejected irrationally or maliciously.

Even those who conclude that the BoM is a fraud cannot legitimately claim it is an obvious fraud; even those who claim the BoM is the most important book in the world cannot legitimately claim that its production and nature are transparently and compellingly consistent with that status.

*

Furthermore, I feel that - at this point in history and in The West - the situation for Christianity is closely analogous to Mormonism.

CS Lewis put this crisply (although I would qualify his statement a little) when he said that Jesus Christ can only be regarded as either what he said he was; or else a deliberate fraud or insane.

My qualification is that the idea of Christ being insane is not much more plausible than that Joseph Smith was insane: considered as men (because those who deny the divinity of Christ regard him as a man) both functioned at far too high a level to be truly insane.

Those who regard Jesus as insane are required to believe that Christianity was fabricated by the Apostles - who would have had to be men of genius (and John and Paul certainly were); those who regard Joseph Smith as insane would be required to believe something similar - that Joseph Smith was surrounded by geniuses who did the real work of writing the BoM, devising a radically new theology, devising and organizing a new kind of church and so on - attributing the heavy lifting to the likes of Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young and perhaps Parley Pratt and with Joseph Smith as a charismatic, inspired but unwitting and crazed 'front' for these covert operations.

*

So, in both instances it comes down to elaborate and deliberate fraud versus truth.

And neither mainstream Christians nor Mormons should be offended by hypothetical fraudulent explanations of their churches - since fraud is the only intellectually rigorous explanation for not believing.

*

Now, of course, there is no reason why a Christian who has faith in the self-claimed divinity of Christ and is certain that Jesus was not a fraud; there is no reason why such a person is in any way compelled by consistency (or the similarity of the cases) to believe that 'therefore' the self-claim of Joseph Smith that he was a prophet was genuine.

It is logically possible that Jesus was genuine and Joseph Smith was a fraud. (Which is, of course, the mainstream Christian view.) And the opposite (i.e. JS genuine and JC a fraud) is not possible - because the fraudulence of Christ would invalidate all of Joseph Smith's visionary and prophetic claims.

*

BUT the evidential position for Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith is similar to the modern mind, using evidence we have today and with that evidence regarded as we regard it today: which is to say there is reasonable and plausible evidence on both sides of the question, and that the ultimate decision of truth or fraud must be a choice and a matter of faith, intuition, inspiration, personal conviction.

The evidence does not decide the question for us - we must necessarily choose and we must know that we are doing the choosing; and yet we will (like it or like it not) believe and live by our choice; because upon our choice hinges the basic frame and understanding of our future life - our basic motivation and sense of purpose.

(Or, alternatively, our state of essential nihilism - characterized by underlying alienation, incomprehension and demotivation.) 

*

I think Mormons are considerably more aware of this reality of modern existence as both consciously chosen and yet believed with certainty than are Mainstream Christians - and that this is one of the strengths of Mormonism.

**



A back-story to Mormon cosmology



I find that my compulsive philosophizing has generated a fairly complex schema to account for what I regard as the major facts of existence: the basic components of reality.

In a nutshell I am trying to explain Mormon cosmology here: I am trying to flesh-out the 'back story'.

*

Initially there is matter, laws of nature - including moral laws, there is God (the Father) (and perhaps a Heavenly Mother, I'm not sure: either God is the one entity without sex, or the duality and incompleteness of sex are universal facts, and the basis of all action and movement and purpose)

...and there are individual (but not personalized) essences of agency, which are differentiated by sex (i.e. male and female agents).

At this point in history, only God has agency and free will - plus many other great primordial powers and attributes.

*

That is the set-up. The assumptions. This is what JUST IS.

*

So we have an eternal pre-existence, eternal autonomy as pre-persons - but at that point we had no self-awareness, and no capacity for free will - no capacity to act.

God wanted to have children, he wanted to raise-up these children to become friends, eternal companions, allies in living...

Why? Either because he was alone and lonely; or because he was an incomplete half and eternally accompanied by a Heavenly Mother - such that the basic dynamic of the universe is to seek completeness in celestial marriage and the loving company of children, and therefore to raise these children to the same maturity as their parents.

*

When we became children of our Heavenly Father, our agency was additionally endowed with conscious self-awareness and the capacity to choose and act - free will.

At that point we became disembodied spirits (spirit children)

*

So we began as an eternally pre-existent, unaware, tiny and helpless, but autonomous, individual flame; to which (at some point in time) God added the divine flame with consciousness and the ability to act - and we embarked upon a spiritual existence.

*

When we chose to come to earth and live this mortal and incarnate life, we did this by earthly parents - so as we are born as mortals we have three sources of 'fire':

1. The individual eternal flame of agency. Unique to us.

(This is the reason why we have genuine and inviolable autonomy and are not merely aspects of God. This is why we are of the same kind as God - we share this basis. )

2. The divine flame - shared with God and with all God's children. This is the reason why all Men are brothers and sisters.

3. A family flame, blended from the individual flames of our earthly parents.

To this is added personal experience, as a consequence of our choices, the choices of others, and the 'physical' constraints of earthly life.

*

So we are compounded of these - we are unique individuals, and we are embedded in relationships as Sons and Daughters of God, Family members, and a product of our choices and chances including friendships and broader human society (maybe Churches).

Our purpose is theosis, to become like God: starting from our shared essence with God to build upon this and to progress through incremental stages of learning and experience; we are now in the midst of this process - being incarnate mortals with avast history behind us including pre-mortal spiritual existence - and an eternity before us of post-mortal first spiritual then resurrected existence.

And this process is foundationally relational, although we are indeed individuals and intriniscally different from every other individual - we are embedded in relationships: the relationships by virtue of sharing in the status of being God's children, and also additional between-human family relationships.

*

More than this, the very movement, purpose and direction of reality depends upon sexual differentiation - upon there being men and women neither of whom are complete humans: the only complete human is a man and woman united, eternally sealed, but this unity is internally structured: is of its nature both dyadic and dynamic.

Sexuality and its union in marriage, and its seeking fulfilment in children and families bound by love, is what makes the universe go.

**




Note by Scribble – a micro-story


There once was a wizard – in fact a failed wizard.

He was capable of magic, but as a matter of fact actually did none, nor had he ever in his whole life done any magic – although he talked about it a lot.


So, he was not really a wizard at all – because, at the very least, a wizard must be able to do magic – even if he never actually does magic (for one reason or another).

*

This not-wizard was called Scribble and he lived in a world where, officially, nobody could do magic for the simple reason that magic did not exist – or so the officials said. Therefore anyone who claimed to be a wizard was actually a not-wizard.

This meant that all real wizards were regarded as not-wizards – but the trouble was that there were several other kinds of not-wizard. Some were real wizards who did real magic; others were like Scribble – not-wizards who would have been magic wizards if only they had been properly instructed, but in this world there was nobody to instruct them (or, at least, nobody who would or could instruct them).

But there were also crazy-non-wizards and fake-non-wizards. The difference was that crazy-non-wizards believed that they were wizards but they were not; while fake-non-wizards knew they were not wizards, but wanted other people to believe that they were. 

*

Scribble’s natural magic was indeed very weak, although it was perfectly real. Even under the best possible conditions, with the best possible teachers, he would never have been a Great Wizard, nor even an average wizard.
He would have been one of those minor wizards who fetch and carry, run messages, look up technical details, copy out magic books and the like. And the fact is that he would not have been very good even at that kind of basic work.
Yet he was not without talent. He had a magical gift, however it was not a magical gift that was much valued by the non-magic – and indeed it was not very impressive; although perhaps it should have been valued a bit more than it was. 

*

Scribble couldn’t actually do anything very well, but he was instead a kind of seer; that is to say a see-er, and that is someone who sees what other people can’t.

But, even here, Scribble was not the kind of seer who attracts plum jobs with kings or warlords. Because Scribble could not see into the future, which is what most people want seers to do. Indeed he could not even see into the past, but only into the present.

And for most people, in fact everybody who Scribble ever met, seeing into the present just didn’t count as magic, they thought it was useless (even if it was true, which they doubted) because (they reasoned): Who needs magic, who needs a seer, to see what is in front of them and all around them?

*

Because he was a seer but had not developed his magic, Scribble made notes. He went around taking notes – people thought it was a diary or journal, but it wasn’t even that! Anyone who looked at Scribble's notes saw something too incomplete to be a diary and insufficiently detailed to be a journal...

These 'notes' were not usually about Scribble himself, his thoughts and opinions (which would not have interested most people, but would at least have been understandable), yet neither were the notes about the surrounding world (which might have been interesting to some future historian) – they were apprently random. Little snippets about this and about that.

Some seemed irrelevant, some seemed very obviously wrong – but there were a few, a very few, which were actually important; or perhaps a better word is significant. They might have been very useful to certain people at certain points in their lives, if only they had known about them, if only they had been interested enough to find them… but that would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack!

*

In the end, Scribble died, and all his notes were left behind – as was the plan from long ago.
And he found himself in a far off land where he met his big brother, who was extremely solid and bright – and it was only at this point that Scribble realized that he himself was not solid and bright, but instead rather like a wisp of smoke!

He also felt very different than in the old country. Scribble realized that now he could perceive things very clearly indeed, and in particular he remembered some extremely important things which he had almost completely forgotten.

At any rate, his big brother was very kind – how wonderful it was to meet him again! – and BB instructed Scribble in his new duties.

It turned-out that Scribble's notes might have some use after all. It turned-out that a 'Note by Scribble' was a thing of some value; at least if discovered by the right person at the right time and in the right circumstances...

*

Scribble had a job in going back to that place where he used to live, and delivering ‘notes’ to particular people at particular moments when they might (if taken notice of) be very helpful to them, especially when they had asked for something of the sort.


Nothing very spectacular; nothing like being one of the big brother’s wise men or strategists or healers, but certainly a useful job: a job that needed doing.

*

All this was excellent, except that – being a mere wisp of smoke – Scribble found it hard to learn, and couldn’t actually do very much. He had to rely on other people for a lot. But, on the other hand, he knew what he knew, and could do what he could do, and there were plenty of people of various types who were more than willing to do for him those things he could not do for himself.

* 

Later, Scribble was given a new body. This had long been promised, and Scribble didn’t have to earn it – but he needed to wait until things had been finished in the old country.

Now they were finished, and all sorts of new plans were afoot, and Scribble needed a new body to do a new and somewhat different job: a more demanding job, indeed; a job that took more out of him, but which he found more rewarding.

It had taken a long time – or so it seemed; and matters had been delayed more than ideally they might have been; but Scribble had grown. He found he could learn more rapidly and more securely than ever before.
*

Life opened out before him!

Now: his first task before starting the job was to look for that lady he once had known and loved, but had somehow lost touch with some time ago.

She was here somewhere, he knew.

He had another chance.

And this time, he hoped, things might work out even better than they worked out before. Scribble had - after all - learned something.


**



Note: This micro-story came to me in a lump after brooding on JRR Tolkien's wonderful allegory Leaf by Niggle. Aside from literary quality and length, one difference is that Tolkien's is on the theme of Roman Catholic theology, incorporating purgatory etc; while Note by Scribble is a Mormon allegory.

**

Metaphysical implications of the Mormon belief in Heavenly Mother/ 

Mother in Heaven



I have previously written (above) about the Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother or Mother in Heaven who is God's wife, and mother to all his spirit children (including you and I).

I have continued to read and meditate on this matter - and have been convinced that a belief in Heavenly Mother is more than just a 'folk belief' as I had supposed, but is pretty-much canonical in the CJCLDS.

This study of authoritative sources by was what finally convinced me:

https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFViewer.aspx?title=8669&linkURL=50.1PaulsenPulidoMother-482bf17d-bbc5-4530-a7cc-c1a1b7e5b079.pdf

David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido,""A Mother There": A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven", BYU Studies, 50/1 (2011)

*

The reality of a Heavenly Mother has, naturally, many profound metaphysical - as well as theological and practical - consequences.

It should be noted that the reality of a Heavenly Mother seems to be asserted mostly on the grounds of authoritative revelation; but also on 'logical' grounds that since gender - being either a man or a woman - is a fundamental, pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal reality for humans; and since humans are made in the image of God and are of the same 'kind'; it would make sense if this principle extended to God.

*

The matter of 'where did God come from?' is often answered by Mormons in terms of an infinite regress: our God was once a mortal man who was spirit child of another God - and so on. 

(This is monotheist in the sense that there is but one God for us - relevant to us, in our part of total reality; and these other Gods have absolutely nothing to do with us at all - except as a source of our God).

*

But another way to answer the question of the origin of God is that He always was.

This is what I believe (or what I choose to believe - since metaphysics are essentially a matter of choice, and stand behind Christian doctrine and not necessarily affecting or affected by it).

So, if God always was; was God the creator, the originator of Mother in Heaven? This would mean that God was the (one and only?) exception to the rule that gender is primary and fundamental - because on this model, God had either no gender or contained both genders.

Or was our Heavenly Mother also eternal - was She always? So that God the Father and Heavenly Mother are coeval and were always divine?  

*

In other words, since the Mormon understanding of divinity is within an also-existing universe with laws and realities within-which God operates; the question is whether eternity contained 'the universe' and one God (without gender) - from whom Mother in Heaven later arose in some way?

Or did eternity contain 'the universe' and two Gods - one male and one female?

I choose to believe the second: that there is no exception to the rule that gender is primary and fundamental to Man - so Heavenly Mother was coeval with God the Father: they existed as divinities from eternity.

*


Note: What about the rest of us? Did we not too exist from eternity? Yes we did - that seems necessary to explain the reality of free will/ autonomy and also evil. However we were individual essences or potentialities with no 'powers'. But only God the Father and Heavenly Mother were divine. They took these essences and we became their children - divine children. The plan of Happiness/ Plan of Salvation is the very long term hope and intention that at least some of us children will choose-to learn-to become 'adult divinities' (if I may put it that way) like to God the Father and Heavenly Mother. Just as earthly children may mature, grow and learn to become like their earthly parents; always children of their parents but now children who are also - in addition - friends. It is a yearning for loving friends to share their universe which motivated God the Father and Heavenly Mother to embark on the extraordinarily complex, contingent, risky and painful plan of salvation and happiness. Within the constraints of our universe it is, apparently, the only way for us to achieve divinity - although we are free to reject the plan, and to reject progress towards divinity and to stop at any point in the path to full God-hood. Speaking personally, I am at this point too selfishly daunted by the idea of suffering the empathic pain intrinsic to full divine parenthood to want to aspire to the highest possible theosis - and would hope to stop somewhere short of that state. But in the course of eternity no doubt this may change. 

**

(Theme continued...)


Male and female roles are not symmetrical but instead of a different nature, different in nature the one from the other.

The way the complementarity of the sexes is (in contrast) usually (but misleadingly) described is a very 'masculine' way (suitable to public discourse, by analogy with societal policy arrangements) - for instance that The Man is 'in charge of' X and The Woman 'in charge of Y' (e.g. the idea that Woman is in charge of House and Family, and Man ICH The Family Economy and Foreign Policy) - but this never rings true, even with respect to humans.

And even less so with gods - since any such division seems to invite unification as one being; just as any 'division of powers' tends to collapse into a unity of power.

*

But if the reality is that the complementarity is of natures and qualities rather than domains of jurisdiction, then that seems closer to reality for humans, and more comprehensible for deities.

If one being is of a certain nature and another being of a different and complementary nature - then these natures cannot be united in a single being - because they are incompatible.

*

If you think of the character of the ideal mother and the character of the ideal father - these two simply cannot be combined in a single being; because many of the perfections of the one are opposed to the other.

(Just think of actual examples of the best of good families - if you know any.)

A hybrid mother-father is not, in fact, a combination of mother and father but necessarily something else altogether (most likely an averaged compromise - inferior to either individually; or something which oscillates from one to the other nature - and therefore partakes of the inhuman).

*

This argument is simply at the level of common sense and common experience. 

An androgynous being does not combine the man and woman but is an intermediate average; and neither does a hermaphrodite.

There is, in fact, nothing that combines the male and female in a full and real sense.

*

So, in trying to understand, define, formulate ideas about Mother in Heaven - I think we must beware of trying to impose quantitative symmetries which would not be applicable to earthly humans.

An analogy would be a Great Man - a great political or religious leader, a great creative genius - someone who had personally vastly influenced public life ... Imagine (as sometimes happens) that the Great Man always insists, and with perfect truth, that 'I owe it all to my Wife', that he 'could not have done it without my Wife'.

Now if we tried to understand this truthful statement in terms of the Great Man's public works we would be missing the point completely - that would be to regard the Great Man's wife as merely some kind of servant - yet that is clearly not the situation; it is not what is implied by the truthful statements of the Great Man himself.

Typically, it is not possible for an outsider to know what is meant by the Husband's truthful statement 'I could not have done it without her. The Wife's work is outwith the public domain, hidden from external view - it is absolutely real and solid and yet at the same time somehow covert, implicit: a Wife's work is a mystery in a way that the Husband's work is not a mystery.

My guess is that something very similar applies to Mother in Heaven. The role and function of God the Father is primarily understandable because it is public, outward, creative; but the role and function of Mother in Heaven is solid and yet mysterious.

*

Mother in Heaven's role is fundamentally and intrinsically mysterious but not for any esoteric or difficult to understand reason; but 'simply' in the same way and for the same reason that any Wife's role may be mysterious in relation to the attainments of any Great Man: real and absolutely necessary - yet opaque to the external eye.

**


What is the single most important and positive thing that differentiates Mormonism from mainstream Christianity in the modern West?



This 'dyadic exaltation' aspect of Mormon theology increasingly seems like the key issue: the doctrine that while salvation is available to all (if they choose it), the highest theosis (state of divinity) is for a husband and wife (and their family) united in eternal marriage.

Therefore, marriage and family are at the very heart of God's plan for the salvation and exaltation of Man. 
*

There is essentially nothing Biblical to support this doctrine, and it was never known to be a feature of the historical and traditional Christian churches; nonetheless you can see that Christians seem independently to have 'discovered' something of the sort at various times and places.
The fact that Joseph Smith made it explicit, and received revelations on this topic - is (for me) a compelling proof of, or reason for, the necessity for the Mormon Restoration of the Gospel - because without explicit revelation on this topic, the core necessity for marriage and family is simply not strong enough in other Christian churches to survive (even in principle) the long term destructive pressures being put onto marriage and family in modern secular societies.
*

Why not strong enough? Because Catholics are tempted to retreat into celibacy as being (anyway) their highest form of spiritual life; while Protestants/ Evangelicals are tempted to retreat into the individuality of Grace (without any need for any particular earthly arrangements).

And all non-Mormon Christians regard marriage as 'merely' a temporary expedient of earthly and mortal life while will disappear in Heaven - thus, insofar as they develop an other-worldly and post-mortal perspective (as Christians should) - so mainstream Christians will tend to downgrade the importance of marriage and family.

Thus mainstream Christians are not doctrinally compelled to defend marriage and family. And M&F are incrementally and rapidly collapsing in mainstream Christianity. And this collapse of marriage and family will (and is intended to) take down those Christian churches. Not just in theory - but here and now, as things actually are, in the modern secular West.

*

Anti-Christian Secular Leftism has evolved and probed at mainstream Christianity over the generations, attacking here and attacking there, and it has at last found this weakness - this Achilles heel  - of marriage; and have broken through, and the churches have given-way, and the enemy is pouring into the breach. 
*

Only Mormonism explains why marriage and family are of eternal significance - plenty of Christians feel that this is so, and that marriage and family are (somehow, potentially) of primary and eternal importance - but only Mormons can actually back this up with revelation incorporated into theology.
*

My interpretation is their either: 

1. It was intended (by God) that the early stage of Christianity was to be dominated by celibate ascetics (because he foresaw the effects of the collapse of Empire) - but this has changed in the Latter Days. Or else:
2. That the necessary revelations about marriage and family were either lost or eliminated from the scriptural record - and were not, in the end, restored by the Reformation (as perhaps God hoped) due to an excessive and exclusive focus on the Bible, and the contingent but rooted Protestant misunderstanding that there was no other legitimate source of revelation (the falsehood that the Bible is sufficient, and uniquely sufficient; as well as necessary). 

Therefore the Restoration of the Gospel by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints became necessary - to complete the unfinished work of the Reformation, and to correct the deformities which had arisen in consequence.
*

Of course there is a lot more to Mormonism than that - but as things stand in the West this is probably the single most important and most relevant thing. 
Whether the CJCLDS can continue to withstand the sustained and increasingly aggressive attack on its core doctrines by modern secular Leftism is another matter - but at least they are core doctrines for the LDS, so things are set up as well as they could be. 

As always, it is up to people to be courageous and discerning.  

**

A theory of the Atonement

*
I have been reading Terryl L Givens's most recent scholarly book about Mormonism - Wrestling the Angel - The foundations of Mormon thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (Oxford University Press, 2015), and my verdict is that the book is simply superb. 

By my evaluation; Givens is one of the most sheerly intelligent writers alive, and also a man whose thought processes and evaluations are extremely congenial to me - he is 'on my wavelength' in an intellectual sense, and has a similar set of priorities in the domain of theology and religion.

In general, I find Givens's account and explication of Mormon theology to be completely satisfying; the exception is The Atonement, the various theories of which he explores in a useful and thorough fashion, before concluding that (as a statement of fact) there is no satisfactory and comprehensive Mormon theory of the Atonement - its importance is central to modern Mormonism, but its nature and operations are essentially regarded as a mystery.

While I hope that this suffices for most people, I am continually 'bugged' by a personal need to understand - or at least know more about - the nature of the Atonement; and having finished Givens's book I felt that for the first time I may be able to articulate a theory which satisfies me - which, in other words, satisfies the constraints I understand to be necessary for an adequate theory from a Mormon metaphysical and theological perspective.

*

In a nutshell, this theory is the idea that Christ's Atonement was about repentance, rather than sin as such; and that Christ's sufferings (in the Garden of Gethsemane and on The Cross) were a suffering of the agonies of repentance for Man - rather than a suffering of the sins of Man. 

By his Atonement, therefore, Christ enabled all Men to repent and be saved - by the simple (and 'easy') act of accepting Christ's supreme act of vicarious repentance - this replacing the 'impossible' demand of Men to repent each and every one of their sins individually and wholly.

*

How do I get to this theory?

The basic 'set-up' is my conviction that human agency (or free will - the ability of all men to be a 'first cause' or 'unmoved mover' - i.e. genuinely to choose from within ourselves and not as a consequence of prior causes) is due to our eternal pre-mortal existence and primary autonomy. 

In other words Human agency is not from God, not a gift from God - it is a given fact of reality; which God must work-around, and which God cannot overwhelm or obliterate (even if He wanted-to - which I do not think he does).

Agency just is a fact of existence. 

*

So the Atonement takes place against a back-drop of ineradicable agency - God's 'problem' was to advance Men towards divinity in this context. It seems that incarnation and mortality are absolutely necessary for Man to make spiritual progress towards divinity - therefore I infer that the single most important thing about incarnate life is death.

Death is the gateway to incarnate immortality. 

*

I accept that we all, as pre-mortal spirit, volunteered to undergo life on earth and death. But the big problem anticipated for this 'plan' would have been that mortal life of earth entails sin (we are too weak, temptations too numerous and strong), and sin renders us unfit for resurrection to immortality. 

(If we - as we are in mortal life - were resurrected to immortality, then that would be a kind of Hell; to benefit from resurrection our souls must be purified and our bodies perfected and yet we remain our-selves - and this process of pre-resurrection purification and perfection can only be done with our consent. 

This is salvation - being saved to eternal life ('life' referring to incarnate immortality, as our-selves). 

Resurrection to happiness depends on repentance - and that is all it depends upon. 

*

My understanding is that nobody - none of the pre-mortal spirits which we were - would be so reckless and foolish as to volunteer to risk mortality under such difficult conditions unless there was special provision that salvation would be easy and straightforward

If our individual salvation required recognition, acknowledgement and repentance of every single sin; then salvation would be a rare occurrence - perhaps nobody would ever be saved. 

Thus, provision was made that mortal men should be saved by the vicarious Atonement of Jesus Christ - He would save us; and all that each of us would need to do would be freely to choose to to accept Christ's act on our behalf.

*

So the divine Son of God was incarnated and died - and by this account Christ's death was the single most important thing he did; but his death would not have been efficacious unless he had also performed the Atonement; and the Atonement must be about repentance.

Without Christ's Atonement, repentance would be de facto impossible - since there is too much to repent, and because our knowledge of what needs to be repented is partial and distorted. 

So, as mortals, we could never know the full extent of our transgressions - and therefore we would not even know what had to be repented.

And while we were 'working through' discovering and understanding all the multitude of things that needed repenting, then we would be accumulating more sins...

Because the nature of repentance is recognition and acknowledgement - repentance is knowing that we have objectively sinned which is vital; and knowing how so many of our attitudes and actions are at-odds-with the divine plan. 

In a nutshell, full repentance requires a full knowledge of reality, and knowledge of our denials of reality (denials by thought and deed). 

Since this is impossible, it can only be done for us. And it was done, by Christ's Atonement. 

*

I take it as axiomatic that for a Christian,  Christ's Atonement must be absolutely necessary. That is, necessary to the salvation of Men. 

Since repentance is a psychological act; then this psychological act must be made effective. 

Since specific repentance for each and every sin is impossible, effective repentance absolutely requires that repentance be simplified to a single decision that encompasses all other decisions. 

It was Christ's Atonement that made repentance into a single decision. 

*

My understanding is that before He died, Christ repented all the sins of everyone who had lived and died up to that point - all who lived before Him - and it was the pain of this vast act of Atonement which he apparently underwent mainly in Gethsemane and on The Cross.

After His death and resurrection, Christ continued, and He continues, to repent the since of all who lived and died after He did, and those live and die now - and He continues to suffer for that reason.

So Christ's Atonement made effective repentance possible - from this act, we may by a single choice accept that God loves us, that He is wholly good; and that God's plans are for our benefit - and by repentance we permanently ally ourselves with these plans. 

*

The Atonement gave mortal life on earth a fail-safe mechanism. 

This was necessary. 

Many or most - or perhaps all - people who are incarnated as Men, and who volunteered to be incarnated as Men, lead terrible lives which render them in need of repentance on an epic and virtually impossible scale.

But this need will have been fore-known, and our Loving Father who wants everyone to be saved (that is, everyone who will consent to be saved - He cannot force anyone to be saved - nor would He wish to compel them even if He could)... our Loving Father made provision for this outcome; so that we would be saved anyway by the shortest and simplest and most-accessible of acts: the simple acceptance of the gift of full-repentance which Christ did for us, and which He offers to give us. 

Because of the Atonement we have nothing more to do than recognise the nature of this gift and accept it; and our reward is the happiness of eternal incarnate life as our-real-selves (with a purified soul in a perfected body). 

*

Even the weakest person born into the worst circumstances can achieve this acceptance of a gift - when each of us was and will be presented, after death, with a restoration of our pre-mortal state of full understanding of the divine plan.

Of course, we will (as free agents) be able to reject this gift - and to choose damnation. 

This is why mortal incarnate life was and is a real risk, and why it was essential that all who underwent it (all of us,that is) were volunteers who knew the risks.

Mortality offers the possibility, even the probability, of spiritual progress towards divinisation; it also contains the ineradicable risk that at the end of it all, we might reject salvation and damn-ourselves.

Our loving Father would not have set up this plan of salvation unless the odds of salvation were stacked in our favour; so the odds are indeed stacked in our favour - and to do this was the work of Christ's Atonement. 

But no matter how favourable the odds of salvation - salvation cannot be guaranteed, because of the primary reality of agency. 

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