Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why I don't like apologetics

The Greek term "ἀπολογία"/"apologia" means "speaking in defense", or more specifically, "to defend something by making an excuse for it." The idea of speaking in defense of something suggests that the thing is right and true to start with, and the counter-proposition is false.

Thus, "apologetics", by very definition, starts with a position that a received religious position is true, and everything is as it should be. There is no quest for truth here, there is only a combative stance: to defend the received position with whatever means possible.  "Good" apologetics, if there is such a thing, tries to defend with logic and reason.  However, most apologetics, especially that practiced by Mormons in their attempt to defend the indefensible, are not characterized by reason or logic.

Good apologetics start with a thorough investigation of the facts, with an eye to defend, but not to deny facts that that are reasonably justified. In Mormon spheres, Brian Hales comes to mind, whose work on polygamy is very good. He still betrays huge confirmation bias in his conclusions, but at least he seeks honesty as to his facts.  In the Mormon world, he represents the best of apologetics, and is rare.

However, facts get in the way of defense, especially when facts are inconvenient.  I don't think there are many apologists anywhere that try to defend a "young earth" theory of creation, although the Bible is pretty clear on that.  One can always say that the Bible was written so long ago, that the ideas of time and space may not have been fully understood; so such things can be set aside as, well, not literally the case.  Defending biblical texts, and the historicity of biblical accounts has become as well a bit difficult, but then again, these events happened long ago, so any evidence to the contrary of the existence of Abraham or Moses, or what exactly Jesus said, is anyone's guess.  Apologists can defend, because there aren't many facts to the contrary.

Mormonism suffers from a different problem.  The founding events of Mormonism are very recent compared to events in the Bible.  What people said and did is much more accessible in historical accounts -- there are many "facts" about how Mormonism started -- many more facts than exist for Christianity in general.  And, not all these facts favor the received accounts.

Mormons grow up with a sanitized view of Mormon history -- very much made "holy" so as to promote "faith".  This might work well if the person lived 2000 years or so ago, but when modern history is sanitized, there are enough contemporaneous accounts to reveal the unsantized account to somebody.  And today, with the availability of the Internet and wide dissemination of information, the sordid facts of Mormon history, the origin of its doctrines, and the nature of its practices and rules are readily available to anyone who wants to look.

But Mormons are told not to look -- this is Rule #1 of Mormon apologetics.  Don't read that "anti-Mormon" literature -- it's all lies.  Except, that now that real live historians have had a chance to discover the inconvenient facts, Mormon apologists, the self-appointed defenders and interpreters of Mormon scripture, can avoid the bullet of the facts.

So they changed their strategy.  Today, a number of LDS apologists no longer attempt to create mind-numbing propositions to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  Instead, they seek to discredit and smear anyone the temerity to point out these facts to believing members.  They poison the well of anyone who attempted critical investigation into church claims, by attempting to demonstrate that the person who is pointing out the facts is an anti-Mormon apostate, a "Wolf in sheep's clothing", or an Antichrist.. This tactic to label and smear their perceived enemies taints the entire Mormon apologetic profession.

Once a critic or historian has been labeled as "unworthy", then Rule #1 kicks in.

Oh this should not be so.  I grew up in the LDS church, in what was called the "Mission Field" where our LDS faith was something we cherished against a very non-LDS society.  We valued the idea that Joseph Smith and others who founded this religion were about restoring the "truth" of the gospel.  I learned from my LDS parents that should not be afraid of truth in the least.  J Reuben Clark, a prominent LDS Apostle and leader, said, "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed."

To me, the Gospel of Jesus Christ starts with a quest for truth Alma called "Faith", then moves quickly to an open and inclusive understanding and relationship with Christ as the very "I AM", the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

What does "Faith" have to do with "Truth"?  To me, Faith is the epistemic Middle Way between knowing something is true and knowing something is false.  Faith is "not knowing".  Paul speaks of Faith as being the evidence of things not seen.  In our LDS scripture, we have a prophet Alma speaking about faith as being this:
Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.  (Alma 32:21)

This begins a discourse by Alma about faith, where he presents faith as an "epistemic" -- or a way of figuring out how to "know" something.  This realm of "epistemology" is critical to belief, and as Joseph Smith once said that the very first principle of the Gospel was faith, so also does all learning and philosophy begin with the "First Principle" of epistemology.  And well should it be the First Principle: "Epistemology" -- the study of "knowledge" comes directly from the Greek "πίστις", pistis, which means "Faith", and not "knowledge".  Hence, the first principle of all of our investigations should be to understand how we come to know things, reject things, and maintain an open mound about that which is in the Middle.  The epistemic Middle Way is thus "Faith".

Hence, according to Alma, faith does not start from a position of confidence or certainty. It starts with a desire to believe in something, and then to practice and experiment to explore that thing with an open mind (do not cast out for unbelief). Action is involved. And the outcome could to cast the seed away, not because of disbelief, but because the seed is not good. This negative aspect of Faith is never discussed in apologetics or in the church. yet it is right there in the Book of Mormon: "Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away." (Alma 32:32)

But let's say that the seed is good, and it bears good fruit. The typical missionary response is that this means that the entire belief structure is good and true. I read the book of Mormon, i ponder it, i pray about it, and voila! i feel good about it. This means, according to our "all or nothing, all true or all fraud" proposition, that every aspect of the book of Mormon is also true, that it is authentic history (why would god lie?), that Joseph Smith never committed fraud and was a true prophet (why would god pick a con-man for a prophet), and the Salt Lake church is true (god promised that this restoration would never be taken from the earth).

I don't think that I am exaggerating to say that this inductive method of asserting the truth of the church is based and dependent on a spiritual experience -- a good feeling -- about the Book of Mormon.

This position of asserted certainty is at the heart of Mormon apologetics. The credibility of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's integrity must be defended at all costs, lest the entire assertive truth of the church falls.

The problem is the inductive leap from a good feeling to an acceptance of the aggregate factuality of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the Church is a horrifying example of fallacy by induction. Ironically, the Book of Mormon itself warns against such a leap:

"And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; ... now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge (of the whole tree) perfect? ... Nay, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good." (Alma 32:33-36)

If I read the Book of Mormon and have a spiritual experience with it, what does that mean? What seed am I planting? What does the plant I planted look like? Does my spiritual experience prove historical factuality? I have read Les Miserables, the Lord of the Rings, and many ancient Chinese myths, I have felt powerful experiences with them. My most powerful experience was reading Chapter 17 of Lao Tzu. Should I assert that Victor Hugo, JRR Tolkien, or Lao Tzu were prophets of God because I am inspired by them? (actually, I think they were, in a way) Did there have to be a real person named Jean Valjean? Bilbo Baggins? Do I have to accept the legend of Lao Tzu reciting his 5,000 characters of the Dao De Jing to the keeper at the Gate?

Of course not. Who would ever claim that I need to believe some prophetic calling of Hugo and Tolkien or some bogus origin story of Lao Tzu to realize that divine words are everywhere.

Yet to up the stakes, Mormon apologists have demanded that the only acceptable interpretation of the book of Mormon is a literal one. Those who leave the church accurately say that the church, writ large, insists on a literal interpretation of the Book of Mormon. The time has come that the evidence against the Book of Mormon as authentic history is conclusive -- it is only a matter of time before every LDS will learn of the facts. Many LDS will stubbornly ignore the evidence, being justified by the mental gymnastics and complete disregard for logic embodied by FAIR's apologists.

Yet for an entire rising generation of people entering adulthood, for those who are willing to look on the internet, and even read the LDS gospel topics, the facts are inescapable, and the literalized methods of FAIR do far more harm than good. At this point, there are no good tools, acceptable by the church, that helps people embrace the spiritual value of the Book of Mormon, divorced from its literalism.

By purporting to providing the answers to the factual issues in the Church, and only being able to discredit logically reasonable explanations, FAIR does much more harm than good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The First Principle of the Gospel

It occurs to me this morning that the "First Principle" of the Gospel is "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". In my LDS experience, however, faith is not of any primacy, and while we speak of Jesus Christ, it seems that we are stuck in the literal and supernatural things he represents.
In Church. the first principle we teach is obedience, that we are here to be tested to see if we will obey, and we must do all we can do to be saved. Then, and only then, after all we can do, we are saved by grace. This obedience is not to the teachings of Jesus Christ, but rather, to the words and will of the Prophets, who speak in the Lord's name. Obedience to each and every pronouncement of the prophets is, by LDS definition, following Christ, because the Prophets are the Lord's representative. "By mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1)
Exploring a bit, I searched on "first principles of the gospel" in Google, just to see what came up. The first four links direct me to LDS . org, number 5 is the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and number six is a speech given by a college professor at BYU on the topic.
While I do think that the LDS church employs a bit of "Search Engine Optimization" on key themes important to Mormonism, it's interesting that our Mormon thought starts with a term "First Principles". One would and should think that such concepts are important. More importantly, if "Faith" is truly the first principle, then where does "obedience" actually fit in?
To read the BYU professor's talk, he starts with the topic in Preach My Gospel about Faith in Jesus Christ, but takes it a step further. To him, "Faith exists when absolute confidence in that which we cannot see combines with action that is in absolute conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father. Without all three—first, absolute confidence; second, action; and third, absolute conformity—without these three all we have is a counterfeit, a weak and watered-down faith."
"Absolute confidence"..."absolute conformity"...without these, we have "counterfeit faith".
I wonder. I truly wonder.
When we speak of "First Principles" in the quest for truth, usually we mean that there is something upon which our entire quest depends--something so important that we must embrace this before everything else. My fundamental question is whether "Absolute Confidence" is an appropriate beginning to any quest for truth -- I do not believe it is.
This, to me, is the heart of faith crisis: the idea that we think of faith as something it is not, and we have not created the right "First Principles" in our faith journey to properly navigate our Way.
We have been told, repeatedly, that our Church and gospel are an all-or-nothing proposition: "Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing." (Hinckley, 2003) While the term "true" could be an indicator of "direction" or "allegiance", the more common interpretation of "true" has a more epistemic (how we know things) meaning: that which is without material error or subterfuge.
As a result, we embrace a testimony in the church that makes epistemic claims about the truth of the church and gospel: I know that the book of mormon is an ancient record, translated by the gift and power of god, I know that we have a living prophet on the earth, I know that if we follow the prophets we cannot go astray. Such claims of "I know" do not allow for the humility of "I believe", or the recognition that something may be false. It is an expression of certainty, of knowledge. A "pure testimony" makes these claims.
Yet we come to a realization that within our realm of "Absolute Confidence" that there are things for which we realize do not justify such certainty. Perhaps, by doing a little digging among the LDS . org site, we find that the Book of Mormon wasn't actually "translated" at all, but rather, was somehow expressed through "scrying" -- peering into a seerstone in a hat. Perhaps we find that the Book of Abraham -- what it says it is in the Pearl of Great Price, and authentic translation of writings of Abraham by his own hand -- has absolutely nothing to do with the actual characters in papyrus or especially in the facsimiles in the book itself. There are dozens of things for which we discover that the Church and gospel are in some ways "not true".
What, then, happens to our "Absolute Confidence" in the Church when we discover there is a profound flaw? Is "Absolute Conformity" justified if we come to know that there are some things in the Church's teachings that are false?
Rene Descartes was faced with much this same problem. He had discovered as he matured in life that there were a number of things he held to be absolutely true in his youth that are no longer true. This profoundly disturbed him, so he set aside some time from his work and teaching to meditate on first principles.
Importantly, his first meditation was to discover that his entire schema of knowledge was potentially flawed, and being such, the only way to really build the proper foundation was a complete "destruction" of his schema of knowledge. He not only had doubts, but embraced them fully, realizing that only by doubting everything could he build the proper foundation.
Many who read Descartes' first meditation call this kind of doubt "hyperbolic doubt". The reality is much deeper. Descartes was suggesting a methodical approach to determining truth, and part of that method was to recognize, in humility, that we don't know. Methodical doubt is the first step on a journey towards truth.
But in this process of methodical doubt, the idea of completely discarding our schema of what we know is so profoundly unintuitive to members of the Church, it's never a good idea to muse in public. I frequently say, here, that I do not *believe* a single truth claim of the church. I do not *believe* in prevailing omni-whatever definition of god (although Descartes most certainly did). Such statements rapidly escalate into an emotional issue for members of the church, immediately labeling me as a "nonbeliever" or an "atheist", which, while technically accurate terms, do not mean the same thing for me than for those who are labeling me.
But the First Principle of the gospel is not doubt by itself. Doubt simply is the beginning of refining faith. To be clear, the First Principle of the Gospel is "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". I'm going to suggest that when we refer to this as a "First Principle", we need to fully understand what "Faith" and "the Lord Jesus Christ" mean, not in a dogmatic sense of "doctrinal" answers, but rather, in terms of how these two things, together, constitute a "First Principle".
When we think of First Principles in the pursuit of truth, it's important that we start with some basics:
1. We need to address how we can "know" things. This area of concern is formally called "Epistemology". Curiously, the greek term for "faith" is "pistis" as a noun, and "epistomai" as a verb. In short, "Epistemology" is entirely about "Faith": how we come to know truth.
2. We need to understand the nature of the how things are, how they exist. This area of concern, discovering the nature of being, is formally called "ontology". The identity of things, how we label them, is all part of this exploration of ontology. Ontology asks questions like "Who am I?" "Who or what is god?" "What is the nature of existence?"
These two disciplines are essential to our quest for truth.
With respect to Epistemology, we need to understand how we can make the claim "I know that X is true" or "I know that X is not true", and what our approach shall be for that which is between these two poles of "knowledge". We will discover that "Faith" is the epistemic Middle Way between these two poles: the idea that Faith is not certainty, it is the humble recognition that we don't know, but given that we hope for things, we are willing to try them and to discover the truth of them.
With respect to Ontology, we will come to embrace an understanding what it means to say "I AM", and realizing this, we will come to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as a being who was fully god and fully man, who marked the path and led the Way to an integrative oneness with all that is.
As LDS, we will discover along this journey that we have unique approaches to both epistemology as well as ontology. Alma 32 will express an epistemology that redefines "faith" away from assertive belief into an experiential reconstruction of both knowledge and faith. As we embrace the LDS view of the plurality and unity of gods, we will come to a unique ontology: we exist as eternal beings in an emergent progression toward godliness, as does the being we call "Heavenly Father". To realize the intimate name of God is "I AM", and eternal constants of the universe are its matter and laws, give unique ontological insight into our divine nature. Jesus revealed this nature in John as he spoke of us being in the present gods, and that he was "I AM".
Let us therefore explore the First Principle of the Gospel in a unique light. To embrace "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" is to recognize that I need to understand how I know things and what those things are in the first place. Such exploration cannot occur when the cup of our minds are full of preconceived dogma. We must cast aside everything we think we know, and come to a methodical deconstruction and reconstruction of faith.
This is the Journey of a lifetime.
Shall we walk upon this Way?

Friday, February 13, 2015

A non-literal testimony of the Book of Mormon

My testimony of the Book of Mormon is this:

  1. I know that it is inspired scripture, useful for the LDS people to discuss spiritual values. I have experienced its scriptural power while reading it, in teaching from it, and I have felt its power changing my life.  I know the Book of Mormon inspires and uplifts me, and is very effective at laying out a number of extremely important gospel principles, including how to survive our trial of faith and improve the truthfulness of our faith.
  2. I know the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ, because the influence I feel in the book is the same as that of the Christ I have come to know throughout my life.  As circular as a reason as this seems to be, it is about a personal relationship, not any degree of epistemology.  I experience the Christ through the writings as well as in my personal meditations and supplications.
  3. I completely reject the book as any kind of history.  The proofs of this are too numerous to list here, and have been listed by others for years.  It's not important to me.  At best, it was created through a process that might be called "automatic writing", but by Joseph Smith's own account, he did not translate it in any way that scholars would consider translation.  He expressed explicitly about the Book of Mormon itself, that it was revealed through the mind and heart (see D&C 8:1-3):

This is probably not the normal Mormon testimony (no surprise there), but it may leave a bit of a dilemma: how can the Book of Mormon be "true" scripture" while it is distinctly not historical?

To me, the answer is simple and clear: it never claimed to be a literal history.

Scriptural Basis of the Book of Mormon being non-historical


The title page of the Book of Mormon says nothing about being historical.  It expresses a specific purpose:
"Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations"
Throughout the book, it refers to the idea that Nephi created two sets of plates, a larger set containing history, and a smaller set containing sacred teachings.  The smaller plates ran out of space after Omni, and Mormon created a set of plates that were an abridgment of the larger plates.  From the description of the plates, it seems that the abridgment was on the same, smaller format plates as the "small plates" of Nephi.  Al though the source material for the larger plates, containing the record from Mosiah to the end of the book, was from the larger plates containing history, Mormon's abridgment was not intended to capture the history, but rather, the sacred content.  Mormon's intent was not to give an "account" (history), but rather to a pastoral purpose.

Here are the key scriptures within the book, and apart from the "title page" above, describing the purpose and nature of the Book of Mormon, demonstrating that the book had no intent of being a history, but rather, a witness of Christ:

1.  Nephi is commanded to make the larger plates of Nephi as a record (history) of his people 1 Nephi 19:1
And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.
2. Nephi was commanded to create a set of small plates that would NOT contain a history of his people.  2 Nephi 5:29-33:
And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.
And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.
Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.
And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.
And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.
3.  Nephi explains the non-historical purpose of the small plates 1 Nephi 19:3, 6
And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.
...
Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. 
4.  Nephi again confirms that he is not to write a history of his people on the small plates, stating that it is to be an account of the ministry of the people.  2 Nephi 9:2-4
And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates also are called the plates of Nephi.
Nevertheless, I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people.
Upon the other plates should be engraven an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people; wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.
5.  Jacob confirms that the history of his people should be written upon the "other plates".
Specifically, "these plates" were to hold the "heads of" (summary of) the sacred, the revelations, the prophesying; for "Christ's sake, and for the sake of our people."  Jacob 1:3-4
For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates, and that I should preserve these plates and hand them down unto my seed, from generation to generation.
And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people.
6.  The other plates are described to be larger -- that is, not the same structure or format as the "smaller plates" of Nephi.  Jacob 3:13
And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.
7.  Mormon expresses that he would make a "small abridgment" of the records of the people without a full account (history) of what he had seen (in his life or among the records).  Mormon 5:9
And also that a knowledge of these things must come unto the remnant of these people, and also unto the Gentiles, who the Lord hath said should scatter this people, and this people should be counted as naught among them—therefore I write a small abridgment, daring not to give a full account of the things which I have seen, because of the commandment which I have received, and also that ye might not have too great sorrow because of the wickedness of this people.
8.  Mormon expresses the intent of his abridgment and writings, none of which is historical: Mormon 5:10-15
And now behold, this I speak unto their seed, and also to the Gentiles who have care for the house of Israel, that realize and know from whence their blessings come.
For I know that such will sorrow for the calamity of the house of Israel; yea, they will sorrow for the destruction of this people; they will sorrow that this people had not repented that they might have been clasped in the arms of Jesus.
Now these things are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob; and they are written after this manner, because it is known of God that wickedness will not bring them forth unto them; and they are to be hid up unto the Lord that they may come forth in his own due time.
And this is the commandment which I have received; and behold, they shall come forth according to the commandment of the Lord, when he shall see fit, in his wisdom.
And behold, they shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; that the Father may bring about, through his most Beloved, his great and eternal purpose, in restoring the Jews, or all the house of Israel, to the land of their inheritance, which the Lord their God hath given them, unto the fulfilling of his covenant;  And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel...

Summary

My bishop once told a story about three people having an interview for getting into heaven, where each was asked a question, "Tell me about Jesus Christ".  The first said he was a prophet, a very good man.  The second said he was the Son of God and redeemer of the world.  The third, upon entering the room, bowed down and exclaimed, "Oh Lord, my God".  We can believe all we want about Jesus Christ, and say the right things, but the type of knowledge that actually saves is not that, but rather, the personal relationship with God.

In my wayfaring, I have had encounters with a Presence that has relieved my addictions, pulled me out of the gutter of guilt and shame, and has embraced me over and over again with unconditional love and grace.  This is the Christ, to me.  Having had them, undeniably so, I can say with equal confidence that whatever I thought I knew about Jesus Christ is immaterial.  Words cannot contain or describe an encounter with god, at least in my experience.

When I am told by defenders of Christianity that I must accept the bible as the literal, inerrant and infallible Word of God, lest I be not saved; when I am told by defenders of Mormonism that I must accept the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon, lest I be not "worthy" of being a Mormon, I simply realize that those who insist on such have not met the same Source of unconditional Love as I have experienced.  Perhaps they have met the "True God", but I think it more likely that we have differing gifts and means to approach deity.  I know only this, that whatever is divine, is to me a matter of experience and faith, and not of empirical knowledge.  Such faith cannot be defended, it can only be realized, experienced, and encountered.

I have had that encounter with the Book of Mormon.  I don't need it to be literal or historical.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A short thought for a friend, Rock Waterman

I have learned that a close friend and fellow wayfarer is in the hospital suffering from pneumonia.  Rock Waterman is one of the most authentic people I know, what ancient daoists would call a "real person".

His blog is at "Pure Mormonism".

Realizing that few people visit this part of the bloggersphere/bloggernacle, I just want to express my love and admiration to Rock, and hope and pray for a speedy, full recovery.

Bless you Rock.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

John Dehlin: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

The narrative that John Dehlin is a "wolf in sheep's clothing", and thus should be cast out of the flock, is a misuse of scripture, and taking a scripture out of context.

The scripture is from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said in
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-16) 
Without equivocation, John Dehlin has never claimed he is a prophet, and I doubt anyone here or elsewhere believes that he is.  This isn't just a semantic difference: we proclaim that "prophets" are those called to be such in the Church.

Let me take a believing point of view of Church History to determine what constituted a "wolf in sheep's clothing" in the past.  Joseph was not always the best judge of character.  When John C. Bennett came to him with radical ideas, Joseph gave them due consideration.  Among all things Bennett encouraged was "spiritual wifery", and Bennett performed abortions to take care of "celestial consequences".  I will leave aside whether Joseph Smith participated in any of these, but I think we can all agree that Bennett was indeed a very bad man at the time, and preached doctrines that ultimately had very bad fruits.  Because Joseph empowered Bennett as a Counselor in the First Presidency, Bennett was indeed a "prophet" by our modern definition (although I don't think that was clear then).

Bennett fully complies with the concept Jesus laid out as a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  He was appointed in a position we now consider a prophet, his fruits where heinous, and in his role as a member of the First Presidency, he wolf behavior was shrouded in holiness -- "sheep's clothing".

In what way does John Dehlin qualify for this distinction?

  1. Is he in any way a "prophet"?  No.  He has never held a position of leadership in the church, let alone those with the distinction of "prophet, seer, and revelator".  No. 
  2. Does he teach false doctrine?  No.  He doesn't teach doctrine at all.  He doubts it.  Disbelieves it, but does not teach it, nor does he advocate any doctrine (that is "what is taught") as being official doctrine of the Church.  It's clear to anyone that John Dehlin does not represent his views as being the doctrine of the church.
  3. Are his fruits evil?  From my vantage point, he has saved lives.  I went through years on suicide watch for a daughter who faithfully went through four years of seminary and four years of BYU suppressing her same sex attraction, trying to make the LDS church work for her.  I lost her to the church entirely as a result, but thank God she is still alive and no longer suicidal.  I didn't have the tools 10-15 years ago that we have now, largely thanks to John Dehlin and others who have given voice to those struggling with both LDS beliefs and LBTGQ issues.  

The argument by the Mormon Apologists that have branded Dehlin with this label is simple: They claim that John leads people out of the church with his comments and online entities.  He destroys testimony.  Therefore like Korihor, he is a filthy apostate.  Like Corianton, he has committed the "Sin next to murder" of destroying testimony (read Micheal Ash).

Has he?  Let's look at the defining statement he made in his press release -- one that gave me incredible heartburn -- "It is my intent to provide increased support to Mormons who are transitioning away from orthodoxy."  The reason it gives me heartburn is not what it says, but what you might take away if you do a quick reading and make a snap judgment, like we all do at times.

The terms "transitioning away from orthodoxy" implies "leaving the church" to most people. Supporting Mormons who are doing so sounds to the emotional mind like "Helping them do so".  So, its an easy leap in the mind from what it says to "Leading Mormons away from the Church".  It's unfortunate language.

I'm not dispelling the idea that as bitter as John is at this point, he certainly may, in the future, become more active in leading people out of the church if the church pushes him out.  I would. I certainly would.  But the reality for now is that until this point, he has not been "leading people away from the church" but rather, supporting and helping those who are already in a process of moving away from orthodoxy, and many that are already out.

To be clear, I don't support in any way anything that "leads people out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".  Not my mission.  Not my purpose.  I'm "IN" the church as a heretic, and as much as possible, a faithful non-believer.  Many have found my position untenable, but I'm good with it and really don't care what others think at this point.  But John knows my position fully, and he supports me and I support him.

So, is John Dehlin a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  Not in the least, to my way of seeing it.  Instead, he has been the guy at the very border of the flock, watching the lambs leaving the flock and shouting out about the wolves in among the flock.  He has tried to give a voice to the stray lambs.  And for this, he will be cast out.

Who are those wolves?  We are.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Gita as a guide to these interesting times.

I'm in a particularly contemplative mood this morning about various ongoing things.  Life is full of surprises and changes.  One verse that gives me incredible peace at these "interesting times" is from the Bhagavad Gita,

"You have the right (agency) to act,
but no right at all to the fruits (outcomes) of your actions.
Do not set your heart on the fruits of action (outcomes, rewards)
nor become attached to inaction.

With Oneness of mind (l"yoga"), do what needs to be done,
Renouncing attachments, Dhanamjaya!  (another name for Arjuna)
Success or non-success become the same,
And that sameness is called, "Oneness".

The performance of action is but a step
toward enlightened Oneness, Dhanamjaya!
Find your refuge in this enlightenment,
sad are they who set their heart on rewards.

Endowed with enlightened Oneness,
cast aside concepts of "good" and "evil".
Devote yourself to Oneness,
Oneness is found in natural action."
(Bhagavad Gita 2:47-50, my translation.)

These verses inform me of an idea, an approach towards things in front of me, be them work related, faith transition, or even personal challenges.  The bottom line is this idea that "detached action" leads to Unity of mind, the idea that the poles and opposites we perceive in our reality are all part of a single divine continuum, and that we are part of something much bigger, the unity of all that is.

But in wrapping my mind around the "unity of all that is", the here and now, the present next thing I need to do, often seems so mundane, so distracting.  Events happen, or are pending happening, creating a sense of anxiety, a sense that something has to be DONE to make for better outcomes...

Bullcrap.

If I have learned anything that helps me in "these interesting times" is accepting the serenity of being able to focus on the next right thing, and as Gandhi said, "leave the rest to god."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I stay LDS - short-form

I've wandered a bit through many faith traditions...maybe I'm a bit of an interfaith tourist.  Not necessarily a good thing, and not necessarily as an adherent of the various faiths, for I never really fully left Mormonism.

After Proposition 8, I thought it was morally reprehensible to continue to claim to be "Mormon" or to sustain the brethren when they, in my assessment, were oppressing a very needy minority, which happens to include family members.

So, I took a job in India.  I preferred China, due to my experience in Taoism, but I also respected Hinduism, and my narrow specialty around identity was more applicable to India.  I spent two years there, immersing myself in Hinduism, Vedanta, Advaita, and other aspects of the culture and found myself on a very deep spiritual quest.  Part of my job, as well, was to provide identity to  the poor of India, so I had a chance to immerse myself very deeply in Indian culture and politics.

At the peak of all this, I went on a pilgrimage to Arunachala, the holy Shaivite temple revered by adherents to Advaita as the pilgrimage site of Ramana Maharshi.  I spent time at his ashram.  I participated in the most sacred rite of fire/lingam worship in a puja in the most holy place of the temple at Arunachala.

At the moment that my Indian sponsor and his family found most sacred, I had exactly the opposite impression.  Out of respect for Hinduism, I won't express what I thought or felt, but it was neither appropriate nor did it harmonize with the sacredness of the ceremony.  I found the whole thing completely and totally absurd.  Yet afterwards, my sponsor told me of how deeply spiritual and sacred that experience was to him, and how much he appreciated that I suggested this pilgrimage.

Later, having lunch with a Brahman priest and a very good friend, I was expressing some of my lessons learned by learning the Sanskrit texts in Hindu scripture.  I told him that my learning of Sanskrit had given me a lot more insight into the meaning behind the words.  He told me that I was on the wrong track.  The words didn't matter, only that they were pronounced correctly...which was, of course, impossible for me to do as a non-Indian old guy.

At the end of my India experience, I came to a conclusion.  Religion isn't a global absolute.  Instead, it is a cultural paradigm, arising from our evolutionary need to unite as a tribe and community for protection, guidance, sustenance, and life.  This is both good and bad.  Good, because it truly is life-sustaining, probably why our evolutionary ancestors, even back 100,000 years ago, had religion, and evolution favored those who did, because they survived as a group.  It's also bad, because we have allowed our religious exclusivity to go overboard and reject new communities arising from our global identities.  We are evolving, and in like manner, religion needs to evolve.

But the more important conclusion I made as a result of India was that the reason Hinduism failed to resonate with me was because it was not my tribal religion.  My tribe is Mormonism, my rituals are Mormon rituals, my faith language is Mormon-speak, and my family, friends, and tribe members use these symbols, rituals, and language to communicate and share eternal principles important to me and that go beyond words.  They are "true" for me, and in embracing them, and being an active part of my Mormon community, I can find life.

There is no such thing as "one true church" for all tribes.  There is definitely a "true church" for *my* tribe, and in that sense, I embrace Mormonism without regrets whatsoever.  Yet, the fact that it is my tribe doesn't mean that I need to accept it as normatively imperative for me, and especially not for anyone else in the world.  I need to own my Mormonism, to not only embrace it, but be the type of member of the type of church in which I want to have faith.

As for whether I'm right or wrong when I die?  I see little risk in that.  If I'm right, cool.  If I'm wrong and the're some other god out there, I am pretty sure that a more enlightened mind out there will appreciate a thoughtful faith more so than a blind one.  And if I'm wrong and there is nothing else, I pretty sure I'll never figure that out...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What is the answer to all hard questions?

I read an article recently from the Ensign, entitled, "The answer to all the hard questions".  I suspect that this article is in response to a large number of LDS members that have significant questions in the light of recent admissions of the Church about some of the more "interesting" aspects of church history.

The article posits that the answer to all hard questions is "Do I trust god above everything else?".  Frankly, I don't trust easy answers, and I don't think anyone else should either.

I'm more inclined to think that the answer to all hard questions is "42", but that would bring up an entirely different line of reasoning...

The article posts five principles that we are to keep in mind:

Principle 1: God knows infinitely more than we do
Principle 2: God shares some of His knowledge
Principle 3: We can trust in God's love
Principle 4: We need to seek spiritual affirmations
Principle 5: We may need to wait upon the Lord

A poster referenced the article on a Facebook page and asked, "I'm curious, for all of you that really dislike the article, which of these principles you disagree with, or how you would talk about these principles differently than the author?"

My answer: I dislike and reject all of them.

Principle 1: God knows infinitely more than we do

How do we know this?  The concept of an infinite god is a distinctly neoplatonist creedal definition.  We continue in the creeds because we continue the traditions of our fathers.  

We believe that god is somehow an exalted human, and that Eternal Progression is exactly that: the eternal process of improving.  While Bruce McConkie suggested that an improving god is heresy, we have no requirement to believe that a god is indeed infinite in anything.  

A loving god cannot know about a random act of violence and it's endless impacts without intervening in some way to protect his children.  Therefore there is no answer to the theodicy: the problem of evil done by random acts of nature has no answer.  Infinite knowledge, power, and goodness completely break down in the presence of random evil.  Free agency cannot explain a tsunami.

To even suggest that there is a god who knows infinitely more than me is to delegate my own responsibility to think, to reason, and to learn through my own experience to distinguish good and evil.  The very plan of salvation requires us to do so, and through the symbolism of the garden of eden narrative, we recognize the simplistic, pat answers as the easy way...satan's way.

We need to embrace the idea that god does NOT have infinite knowledge, that he weeps over things that go wrong.  the bottom line is that in this world we will have tribulation -- shit happens -- not because the world is evil, but because it is in the nature of things.  It is the Way things work.  We can steer our course along the Way to live life to the fullest, but we cannot dictate the outcomes.  The rocks and rapids of the stream of Life are part of the ground of our being, not the acts of an infinite god.

There isn't a plan for everything, there are only tendencies with lots of free will and agency.  

Principle 2: God shares some of His knowledge

Again this implies a monster of a god.  Perhaps we impute the idea of a god who selectively shares his knowledge, based upon our attempt to rationalize an infinite god and why answers to prayers are so hard to get.  But the idea that god would withhold knowledge of a tsunami, for example, and not warning his children, makes him unworthy of worship.  Such a god is needlessly cruel and unenlightened.

Alma 12:9 says that it is given to many to know the mysteries of god, but they are under a charge to stick to the basics: "the lesser portion of God's word."  This doesn't imply at all that god selectively shares information, but rather, it is up to us to discover -- to learn through our own experience to distinguish good and evil.  

Eternal truth is eternal independent of any being.  God, a Being in our theology,  does not own eternal truth in a way that says he or she can selectively share it.  truth simply is.  If truth is a knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come then it is up to us to study it out in our mind, to reason, and then to seek guidance from the spirit.  This same spirit is called a "comforter",   This same spirit is our eternal companion.  This same spirit helps us open up to truth, provided we drop our agendas, desires, and preconceptions.  This same Spirit listens to us, weaps with us, grieves with us, and like a true companion, doesn't offer pat answers to the questions of the universe.

God does not withhold truth.  We simply deny ourselves the ability to know be ause we already think we know.  Our cups are full of the traditional dogma of what we think god is and knows, such that we cannot embrace the natural truths that are already within us in the form of our eternal divine nature, the light of Christ within us, and the indwelling of the holy ghost, our constant companion.  

Principle 3: We can trust in God's love

To this I would have to ask, "which god"?  the god of the bible is distinctly not loving, and genocides of women and children were commanded by that god.  that god condoned slavery, the submission of women, rape as a minor financial obligation on the part of the rapist.  

God apparently commanded polygamy, which in my family history had nothing to do with love.  

trust cannot be demanded or commanded.  trust is earned, and freely offered.  to trust or have faith in an abusive god or one enforced by his self-empowered prophets is not faith, but rather, delusion and enabling of abuse.

Whatever we believe god is, I do not believe that an enightened being would require blind trust.  Alma makes it clear that there is a heuristic to test any thing we have a desire to believe.  he called it "faith": the willingness to try something out, and validate our trust.  he said that the result of that trust -- the experiment on faith -- was not "belief" but rather "knowledge": we know thay a given thing edifies us *by our own experience*.  this exactly confirms the creation and garden of eden account where the purpose of life is for man to learn through his own experience.

Sure, we can "trust" god's love, but we also are commanded in Alma to verify, to discover the true god of love and not the invented god of this world.

Principle 4: We need to seek spiritual affirmations

While this principle seems like we should seek the spirit, the author says quite clearly that in this fallen world, we are cut off from the mind of god, therefore we cannot know things of god except that god reveals them: that the natural man cannot receive the things of god.

Unfortunately, this betrays the Calvinist influence and interpretations of New Testament scripture, prevalent in New England and in the formation of LDS doctrine. The Book of Mormon was revealed/translated/written before Joseph Smith created a much more universalist/optimistic view of mankind.  We are not fallen man, but indeed have already been redeemed from the fall.  Thus Man is free, to choose good or to choose evil; and according to Joseph Smith’s later doctrines, we are free to learn through our own experience.  

Why is this important?  Why should we reject the idea that the only source of truth is God?  It isn’t so much that God, however we define him or her is not ‘truth’, but our access to such truth is so incredibly limited, and yes, we need to seek truth. But how?   Even very early in Joseph Smith’s legacy, he posited that truth is not just there for the asking, but rather, we need to study it out in our own mind — we need REASON in order to grock eternal understanding.  And as the body without the spirit is dead, the spirit without the body is incomplete: we believe in a unity of material and spiritual, of works and faith…indeed all LDS doctrine is based upon both the spiritual as well as the physical.  

For those LDS who seek only the spirit as their answers to life, they can so often be misled by that spirit on very important and practical matters.  “Mind and Heart” both figure into the equation for solving life’s problems.  

I remember distinctly one of my companions talking about “spiritual addiction” — the notion that one becomes hooked on the good feelings of the spirit, and seeks for these feelings as if a drug to handle life.  Sure, spirit can provide comfort, and should, but that comfort, at the expense of living life to the fullest and directly confronting our problems instead of retreating into the spiritual feelings is akin to being addicted to drugs.  Yes, “Religion can be the opiate of the people”.

Principle 5: We may need to wait upon the Lord

Again, a seemingly innocuous statement, but the idea of “waiting” implies desire.  The Bhagavad Gita suggests another approach.  "Yogastah, kuru karmani, sangam tyaktva, dhanamjaya; siddhi asiddio samo bhutva; samatvam yoga ucyate”.  “With an enlightened (unified in yoga) mind, do what needs to be done, renouncing attachments, Dhanamjaya!  (another name for Arjuna)  Success or failure become the same, and that sameness of mind is called yoga/unity."

If waiting on the lord means “letting go”, then we are indeed doing what the Gita says: we are renouncing attachment to the outcomes.  We are ridding ourselves of desire, the source of all suffering according to the Buddha.  I’m all for that.

But our religion isn’t about letting go, it’s about attaining outcomes: we patiently wait on the lord to give us our just reward for all the good we have done.  We sing about this.  We state without equivocation, “If ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land, if ye keep not my commandments, ye shall be cut off from my presence.”  We are taught that if we keep a commandment of the lord, we are entitled to the blessings that are guaranteed by that commandment.  And then, when the blessing or prosperity doesn’t come, we are to “wait on the lord”, not to let go and realize that things may not work out, but rather, that in time everything is guaranteed to do so, whether in this life or the next.

The Unanswered Question

We are children in the LDS faith.  We have to have a reward-carrot system where we have to be assured of our rewards if we do good, because, by God, if we don’t do exactly what god says through his prophets, we’ll pay for it.  Mature faith realizes that there aren't easy answers to all the hard questions, but rather, the Unanswered Question, the one that requires us to grapple with our very existence, is the quest of a lifetime.

The easy "answer to all the hard questions”, as presented in this article, is to merely wait on the lord, because he’ll satisfy us in the long term, and we don’t have to worry about suffering now.  It’s a drug, and it’s harmful.  It's the short-cut to enlightenment, but paradoxically, it doesn't enlighten.

I see another approach: one that realizes that the world is what it is: a place governed by natural laws without consciousness or conscience, and we as wayfarers in that world can come to grips with how to live harmoniously with each other and in the world.  Our god is our guide through this wilderness — an enlightened being who walks with us, carries us, loves us unconditionally, and weeps with our tragedies.  S/he doesn’t do magic, and s/he doesn’t just fix things for us.  But like a really great friend and guide, s/he listens with the mind, heart, and spirit to our very needs, and waits for US to come to him/her.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Approaching Scripture

In my impression, the most important realization we can make is that no scripture is dictated by God verbatim.  In fact, very little of scripture by its own claim starts with "thus saith the lord", and that which does, is a reflection of a spiritual experience, often recollected years later, and recounted through oral tradition; and thus mixed with very human thinking and biases. 

At its best, scripture is given through inspiration into the mind and heart of humans at a given point in time.  At worst, it consists of a document justifying ethnic cleansing and genocide (this includes the OT with respect to Canaanites and Philistines, the NT with respect to Jews, and the Book of Mormon, with to the cultural identity of native americans and manifest destiny -- the god given justification to christianize them).  Thus, the concerns of the revealing "prophets" included tribal justifications as to why a given sacred place was decreed by god to belong to my tribe and not the sinful philistines (in today's language: "palestinians").

Once we realize the process of revelation, we can easily understand how mesopotamian myths came to be part of a sacred history, and why certain stories indicate a very partisan god.

The NT is no different.  the writings were never intended as scripture (with exception of Revelation) but rather, were captured thoughts by literate believers to explain specific points of view at a given point in time.  When the pagan Constantine organized the church in order to unite the empire, writings that were favorable toward rome and central priesthood power were kept, while the more esoteric and spiritual teachings, those favoring a sense of the divine feminine, the gnostic, or the jewish-christian view, were destroyed.  Indeed, the male-centric model of authority, where women were never to hold the priesthood and were to remain silent in churches in their plain modest dress and long hair, was systematically favored in the canon.

In order to develop a thoughtful faith, one based in truth, it is extremely important to understand the history of scripture.  Even scripture itself gives the key of understanding: scripture is NOT to be taken as literal history, but rather, the writings are holographically representative of the working of inspiration through flawed and politically motivated humans.  what emerges is not accurate history or science, but rather, a set of pointers to divine reality.  Scriptures thus do not contain that reality: they are like fingers pointing to the moon...they are not the moon, and when you look at the fingers, you can't see the moon.

In John 5:39, one of the misused and mistranslated scriptures in the King James Version, Jesus pointed out to the scribes that they searched the scriptures, because in them they thought the scriptures contained eternal life (god's Way of life: the Torah).  They do not, according to Jesus: they point to Him-- the I AM -- the eternal life as reflected in the Authentic Being that Jesus reflected in archtype.  He did not command the Scribes and Pharisees to "Search the scriptures", the greek is second person plural indicative, not imperative: "Ye search the scriptures"... an observation that the scribes and pharisees searching of scriptures has no real validity.  There is a warning in this for us.
How true it is of Jews, Mormons, Christians, and Muslims alike: a man-made thing becomes the object of worship and veneration.  The scriptures are venerated as the very infallible Word of God. 

To worship such an artifact has a word used in scripture: idolatry.

That said, scripture does point to the divine reality, and can serve as part of our faith journey.  in meditating on a truth, we can open our minds to the divine realities to which they point as we abandon the specific words and symbols.  once we come to be enlightened by that reality, according to the Bhagavad Gita, then scripture becomes as a well within a pristine, freshwater lake.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Radical Rethinking of Religion

On occasion, I moderate online groups supporting those who stuggle with religion and faith. My point of view is that faith within a faith community is a "good thing", because when I tried the alternative in my sojourns to India, I really missed the communitarian aspect of Church and religion.  Maybe I was just brought up that way.

But I think another element is involved.  Religion, with all of its dogma and ritual, have a place in the community, if for nothing else but to fulfill a deep human need to be connected one to another.  Good religions foster this sense of community, and the best of religions tend to serve the needs of members and others through service.  This can represent the very best in humanity.

When I felt most isolated on my personal faith journey, I came to a conclusion that something inside me, very primal, needs the connection with others -- needs a place to call my "home".  For me, this is the LDS church, because that is the faith of my fathers (mothers, family, etc.).  As well, I have had deep spiritual experiences binding me to that faith in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Yet my sojourns through other faith traditions has given me a deep respect that as much as I self-identify as Mormon or LDS, I deeply respect that others, too, have an exclusive sense of connection to their respective faiths.  I share a lot with a colleague in Ireland who is a devout Catholic, and like me, conducts music in his congregation on occasion.  His family and mine could be identical: five children, deep commitments to family and to community, obviously the same kind of work. 

One weekend, I stayed with him in Dublin, going to a rugby game, participating in Irish folk music until late at night, and on Sunday, working with his folk choir as they prepared for and participated in the Mass.  It was a lot of fun, but also, a contest of egos as to who was in charge.... hard to give up old patterns, I'm afraid.

I had explained to him that once in Montreal, I had participated in Catholic communion, and did not understand how we can be exclusive in our religions as to who participates fully in the ritual.  He was mortified, because such a sacrilege by a non-Catholic is entirely inappropriate.  So, he explained that I could participate in the communion, but not take the host -- by crossing my arms in the form of an X.  During his mass, I did so, and the priest blessed me instead of serving me the host -- it was a remarkably spiritual moment.

There is something about the ritual that speaks to the soul.  Whether it be the Mass, or a Shaivite fire ritual, or the LDS temple, or elsewhere, the ritual stirs something inside -- a unity, a connection, a deep sense of awe.  I have been transported to another realm in hearing the Shema, or the recitation of the Qur'an.  Perhaps there are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji (as the buddhist expression goes), but to me, there is a path I'm on.

Why is (or was) religion necessary?

So what is religion anyway?  In speaking of the term, I'm refering to the organized, cultural construct whereby we worship together.  While individual spirituality and faith are often present in the organized religion, they are distinct, and indeed personal.  Religion serves a distinct purpose, to bind a community together through ritual, common caring, and identity.

I do not believe that any "religion" was and is a god-dictated construct.  I'll go with "inspired", but I also will say that in being 'inspired', some aspects of religion reflect that inspiration, but ALL religion is also a man-made construct, and arose necessarily out of the need for the tribe to survive.

Speaking from an evolutionary point of view, humans are not well equiped to survive as individuals in the wild.  Our evolutionary strength comes not only from our minds, but also our ability to form mutually-protecting groups.  It's evident to me that our rituals went back at least 100,000 years even among the related Neandethals, who dressed their dead with ritual and omens indicating some kind of community beliefs.

I would imagine, or theorize, that rituals helped bring a tribe together.  The unique languages of ritual practice, whether social or otherwise, would help identify a member of the tribe, as opposed to someone whose rituals differed.  A member of the tribe might be trusted, whereas the stranger in the midst would be distrusted.  Such behaviors did not develop because people are inherently racist or bigoted, but rather, the primitive society used these protocols to identify friends/family from foes/foreigners.  Our personal preference to those who speak and look like us, who pray like us, and who act like us is a result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary natural selection -- we are programmed to need the identifying rituals, whether we like them or not.

Today, religion stands at the gate between our tribal identities and our emerging global identities.  In fact, the more we globalize, the more desperate religion is to re-assert tribal identity among the still-faithful in the religion.  Indeed, the vast majority of the world's problems have to do with the assertion of tribal identity as a means of survival over globalization, especially in the presence of perceived scarcity of critical resources.  The global war on terrorism (GWOT), along with its partner, fundamentalist religious terrorism, dominate the world scene and serve to bring down progress and pluralism.

The Tipping Point has Arrived.

So here we are, in a world where religion stands in opposition to progress.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I moderate groups where people struggle with faith and religion.  I have been dablling in this since the 1990s, but during the past year or so, I have never seen more people flooding the gates of leaving religion.  When I was involved in early mormon-focused usenet groups (alt.religion.mormon, soc.religion.mormon), we had a few people join us on occasion -- one or two per month, maybe.  Of course, usenet was not as popular, say, as facebook or other fora (or is it "forums"). 

I've been participating on occasion within the "Disaffected Mormon Undeground" (DAMU - affectionately pronouncd "Damn-You") for the past several years.  My obsession with statistics has led me to observe the numbers of people in and out of those groups, and I have informally tracked these for the past four years.  I have seen steady increases in people involved, but within the past few two years, I can quantitively say that the number of requests for support about my particular religion, the LDS church, has not doubled, but rather, quadrupled.  This week, alone, we admitted 42 people into a facebook group after confirming that they had a legitimate concern abou their church adn were trying to make it work.  This contrasts with 20 maximum last year, and half that the year before -- and we were not nearly as selective in the past. 

And we're the ones trying to help people stay in the church.  The popularity of ex-mormon or really disaffected, "on-one's-way-out" sites is at least four to six times as great as those who wish to stay in.  These are quantifiable statistics based upon membership numbers and increase per week of the sites with various constituencies.

I'm reminded of Malcom Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, where he explains how certain social phenomenon achieve a certain critical mass, and after that "tipping point" a massive change in sentiment occurs.  I do not wish for the tipping point to turn against the good parts of religion -- but I can see the "writing on the wall" at this point.  The availability of information readily available on the internet, the social networking that connects people to each other in lieu of the community across global communities of interest -- spell a massive need for change in traditional religions.

A Radical Rethinking

I'm weird, but you know that.   I love religious ritual.  I love putting incense on the graves of the 47 ronin at Sengakuji.  I truly enjoyed the Mass in Dublin.  I enjoy the ritual of the LDS endowment, as well as the quiet, contemplative moments of communion (or what we call "Sacrament").  I love the traditions of Yom Kippur, where I draw near my family and re-assess where I stand in the book of life.  I have recited the necessary suras as part of islamic prayer.  I have chanted in sanskrit. Yet, I have been disappointed in my own efforts to create my own kind of spirituality -- it would seem to me that I feel most at home within the faith of my fathers and upbringing -- it speaks to me.

I would like to propose a new kind of faith -- a faith where we all recognize and appreciate that we don't know with certainty about the divine, but rather, we celebrate the divine in our rituals and in our daily lives.  I would like to stand, side-by-side, with a mullah, an evangelical, a hasid, and an atheist, and instead of arguing about who is right, find ways where we share our common humanity.  I don't want one world religion, I want as many as necessary to speak to our individual souls.

I would like to celebrate the Jesus Christ who challenged my forefathers' and fore-mothers' Jewish and Christian faith, by asking them who their neighbor was.  I would think that James the brother of Jesus could sit at the same table as Paul's greek converts, and while James might stay kosher in his meals, the converts may have a different view -- yet we are all one body of humanity.

Yes, there are going to be many messages in my religion, polemics of the past, that I'm going to have to discard.  I'm going to have to throw away the idea of "one true church" for everyone, except in the metaphorical sense of a unity across diversity.  I'm going to have to realize that the polemics of my church's past are not worthy of defense, but should indeed be apologized for, rather than a subject of apologetics. 

What I'm suggesting is that each church embrace a larger, interfaith community of acceptance.  Yes, our churches will need to change -- not the ritual, not the practices that are compatible with others.  We need to embrace a universal faith, while living within diverse religious traditions.  Our traditions can enrich us, but it is our faith that must unite us.

I am so much of a fool.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Orson Pratt: God as Attributes

Orson Pratt was one of the most brilliant scholars of the early LDS church, and his intellectualism often led to conflict with the leadership of Brigham Young.  Young was authoritarian, whereas Pratt was rational.  In many ways, they were both speculative in their theology, but to Young's authoritarian style, Pratt's approach was entirely too confrontational.  In 1853, it would seem that Young found a solution to this intellectual conflict: he sent Pratt on a mission to Washington DC, to testify to the Gentiles.  As part of this mission, and with the approval of the leadership, Pratt authored an apologetic tract on Mormon theology and practice entitled, "The Seer".

Pratt was a true LDS believer.  As he had learned from Joseph Smith, God was both the one being that created and governs the universe, as well as an exalted man.  God was both unchangeable, according to scripture, the same from everlasting to everlasting, yet the being we call "Heavenly Father" was once a man, and had progressed to become God.  The pre-mortal existence of man was in a realm speaking of the "Sons of God" who were in someway gods, yet there could only be one god.  Joseph Smith taught that god has an immortal, inseparably connected exalted body, and can only be in one place at a given point in time, yet the scriptures speak of god being everywhere.

Indeed, Mormon theology about a God who was once man, and the idea that man can become god is fraught with fundamental conflicts with the mainstream definition of God.  How can god be unchangeable, but the being we call god, either as God the Father transformed from mortal man to Heavenly Father, or as Jesus was once man yet progressed, line upon line in his mortal life, to become god.  If we as humans are fallible, how then can we become unchanging gods?

Orson Pratt's laid out a remarkable approach for answering this apparent paradox.  In the February 1853 edition of The Seer, Orson Pratt laid out his understanding of the pre-existence as a child of god, and his destiny as a god, thus resulting in a multiplicity -- indeed "millions" of gods.  How could this be reconciled?  Here are his words from The Seer, Volume 1, Issue 2:
All these Gods are equal in power, in glory, in dominion, and in the possession of all things ; each possesses a fulness of truth, of knowledge, of wisdom, of light, of intelligence ; each governs himself in all things by his own attributes, and is filled with love, goodness, mercy, and justice towards all. The fulness of all these attributes is what constitutes God. "God is Light." "God is Love." "God is Truth." The Gods are one in the qualities and attributes. Truth is not a plurality of truths, because it dwells in a plurality of persons, but it is one truth, indivisible, though it dwells in millions of persons. Each person is called God, not because of his substance, neither because of the shape and size of the substance, but because of the qualities which dwell in the substance. Persons are only tabernacles or temples, and TRUTH is the God, that dwells in them. If the fulness of truth, dwells in numberless millions of persons, then the same one indivisible God dwells in them all. As truth can dwell in all worlds at the same instant; therefore, God who is truth can be in all worlds at the same instant. A temple of iinmortal flesh, and bones, and spirit, can only be in one place at a time, but truth, which is God, can dwell in a countless number of such temples in the same moment. When we worship the Father, we do not merely worship His person, but we worship the truth which dwells in His person. When we worship the Son, we do not merely worship His body, but we worship truth which resides in Him. So, likewise, when we worship the Holy Ghost, it is not the substance which we alone worship, but truth which dwells in that substance. Take away truth from either of these beings, and their persons or substance would not be the object of worship. It is truth, light, and love that we worship and adore ; these are the same in all worlds ; and as these constitute God, He is the same in all worlds ; and hence, the inhabitants of all worlds are required to worship and adore the same God. Because God dwells in many temples, He frequently speaks to us, as though there were many Gods : this is true when reference is made to the number of His dwelling places ; baut it is not true, and cannot be true,, in any other sense. Therefore, in all our future statements and reasonings, when we speak of a plurality of Gods, let it be distinctly understood, that we have reference alone to a plurality of temples wherein the same truth or God dwells. And also when we speak of only one God, and state that He is eternal, without beginning or end, and that He is in all worlds at the same instant, let it be distinctly remembered, that we have no refer- ence to any particular person or substance, but to truth dwelling in a vast variety of substances. Wherever you find a fulness of wisdom, knowledge, truth, goodness, love, and such like qualities, there you find God in all His glory, power, and majesty, therefore, if you worship these adorable perfections you worship God. 
 Shortly after this was published, Brigham Young openly disagreed, saying that we don't worship attributes, but rather, a being.  This disagreement continued from late 1853 until around 1860, after which Orson Pratt was forced into submission by the Quorum of the Twelve to accept the Prophet's word without question.  He then gave a formal apology in a conference address.

Certainly many of Orson Pratt's pronouncements were speculations.  Curiously, the issue that caused the most dissension between him and Brigham Young was the Adam-God concept: Orson simply couldn't agree that Adam was an alien from another planet and who was appointed to be God of this earth.  As well, he couldn't agree, scripturally, that god continues to progress.  Here we have both Brigham Young and Orson Pratt speculating on the nature of god, and one was brought into submission because he wasn't the prophet.  Later, of course, Brigham Young's speculations around Adam-God and the progression of god have proved distinctly non-scriptural and problematic to later prophets.  In the end, who was right?

To me, it's important to observe that Orson Pratt's observations were a valid attempt to rationalize scriptural understanding of god with the god as defined by Joseph Smith.  Orson Pratt was a true believer, yet in his attempt to rationalize mormon theology, he came upon an idea, supported in scripture, that the eternal nature of god is a universal constant: truth, light, power, etc., are godly attributes, and a person possessing such attributes can and should be called "god".

Where Pratt caused confusion is to suggest that the attributes, disembodied, are objects of worship.  They are not.  It is not the attributes that make up god, but rather the attributes embodied in a person -- the "I AM" that make up god.  The body (the individual) and spirit (the attributes, metaphorically) become inseparably connected, and thus achieve the fullness of joy (power, truth, light, etc.).

As I see the Way

I see these attributes in the context of the Way.  The Way, as an abstract concept or attribute, is not god, never was, never will be.  The Way is what makes one God.  In Chinese daoist literature, the "Sage", or literally, "holy person", is characterized as being one who is in perfect harmony with the Way.  To me, Orson Pratt was on a trajectory to understand the Way in a sense that makes it real -- Any being who possesses the attributes (of the Way) and is in perfect harmony with the Way would be and is indistinguishable from god.

Sure, I understand this as being an exalted state, eventually to be achieved in LDS doctrine and theology.   But somehow, Jesus saw it differently: he saw that we could be one with him and with God in a very real, present sense.  To him, Psalm 82 spoke of mankind being gods in this life, not as a state to achieve, but rather, as state of existence in the here and now -- one who defends the poor and the fatherless, who does justice to the afflicted and the needy.  If there were any "Way" that Jesus best demonstrated, it was how we are to care for one another in unconditional love.  This was the Way of Jesus Christ: to love one another.

And this attribute, "Love", is worthy of worship.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life Happens

So… about six months since my last blog here.

Perhaps it's a cycle I go through, but I think I'm landing at exactly the same point I was three years ago: trying to make being part of a community work for me, but it doesn't…not really.  I am forever feeling like a round peg being forced into square and triangular holes, designed for other people, or for parts of me that I'm not.

I failed miserably at a whole raft of worldly activities in the past six months.  Whether it be work, or elsewhere, I'm not finding myself to be very good at many things - particularly when it comes to the responsible things of life: paying taxes, submitting expenses, doing the regular things that other people find easy…I find absolutely dreadful to do.  A man quit on me at work citing me as the primary reason for leaving, and my boss tells me that I really am no good at my job.  That was all right before Christmas…

So I gave it a thought over the holidays…  Added up my strengths, my liabilities, my assets -- literally and figuratively -- and found that I'm not so bad after all -- but I make myself bad. I allow stupid fears to prevent me from living life to the fullest.

Then, returning to work in January, it's like a completely new world to me.  I have caught up on all administrative issues, as if there was no problem at all.  Work things are starting to break nicely, and while there are profound challenges still, I am dealing with them.

It's simply the journey that matters, to be in life, but not taken back by life.

wayfaring on...