Monday, March 4, 2019

The Problem of Divine Dictation

For me, the most useful strategy that helps me stay constructively engaged in the LDS Church is to accept that all scriptures and prophetic pronouncements are given through inspiration, communicated through the mind and heart of the revelator, and expressed in the language of our current understanding.

Thus, I can accept that our scriptures, doctrines, and commandments are infused with human bias and cultural artifacts.  While at best they point to eternal truth, the words themselves do not have to be literally true.

This is my faith.  Yet, I am not sure my faith is welcome within the walls of the church.

A missionary gave his testimony yesterday of the Book of Mormon: that every word in it was hand selected by god to be there.

I wish I could dismiss his statement as being the enthusiasm of a young man, but I cannot.   The idea that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham were divinely dictated is a core truth claim of the church today, and serves as the basis of why we must not question or doubt the commandments issued forth from the living prophet.

For if god dictates the words of scripture, then those very words are the Word of God, infallibly stating eternal Truth.  God cannot lie, nor can god be the author of confusion.

Does god dictate?

Is god a dictator?

I realize that the above two questions are using the word “dictate” in completely distinct ways: that god might dictate some words doesn’t mean that god is a dictator in the usual sense of the word... or does it?

Consider one of the verses in the Book of Abraham:

“And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.” (Abraham 3:19)

What is this verse saying?  Abraham chapter 3 is about how god has somehow favored a specific set of people to be “noble and great ones” in this mortal life based upon their valiance in the pre-mortal existence.   And more to the point: in any relationship between two people (“spirits”) one is greater than the other.

If I accept this verse, then there is a strict precedence hierarchy of all beings: humans are not created equal in this life, but rather, there are those foreordained to lead, and others not so.  This concept justified the exclusion of blacks from having the priesthood, for Pharoah supposedly was a descendent of Ham, who married one of the descendants of Cain, preserving the curse.

Oh, sure, we can ignore this idea, for since 1978, all *men* can have the priesthood, so it’s a non issue, right?

Uh, no.

Precedence hierarchy has not gone away in the church, but in fact is the very essence of the church.  The word “hierarchy” is the key: it derived from the Greek word for “high priest” “archiereus” or hierarch—“hier” meaning “holy” and “arch” meaning “ruler” (literally, "first in precedence").  The very object of male priesthood is to implement hierarchical “holy rule” on earth.

And as much as the new temple wording has equalized much in the church, the man still “presides”.  Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal” are not scripture to us.

Priesthood *is* hierarchy.  And hierarchy is the means whereby god dictates his will to his servants.

Some years ago, I was conducting the music at a stake priesthood leadership meeting where President Boyd K Packer was to “preside”.  We were instructed to silently be in our seats fifteen minutes ahead of time.  When President Packer entered the room, we all stood in reverential silence.  The order of procession was carefully aligned to the precedence hierarchy of area and stake leaders at the meeting.

As the procession came toward the front of the chapel, I was on the stand directly in front of them.  I made eye contact with President Packer and gave him a gesture of respect.  There was nothing in response: I might as well have been looking into the eyes of a shark: lifeless, harsh, and dead.

I did not exist to that man.

Yesterday, the Sunday School class covered Matthew 5-7.  The discussion turned to Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”, and my wife was asked to read a quote by Russell M Nelson stating that the verse referred to eventual perfection when we are “complete”.

I commented that as much as I appreciate the better translation of “teleios”/complete rather than “perfect”, the verse is not about any kind of perfection, either in the present or future, but rather, it was about unconditional love.

The teacher then responded with, “that’s exactly what RMN said...”.   I dropped the point.  Not a single person in that class could, or would, dispute the words of the Prophet.

You see, the Prophet is one of the “Noble and Great Ones”, chosen before he was born, as Wendy Watson Nelson so often points out.  And in his sleepless hours at night, the Lord dictates to him what he is to do as presiding high priest (hierarch) of the church.

How can anyone question or doubt the prophet who receives divine dictation?


I am reminded, ironically, that there were two plans presented in the pre-mortal existence.  One plan was the plan of divine dictation and compelled obedience.  The other was to learn through our experience, making mistakes, improving ourselves, and being forgiven by grace.

I am reminded that Jesus condemned the hierarchy of his church, while preaching to the most dejected of alleged sinners.  As the presiding high priest, he lowered himself to the lowest of slaves and washed the feet of sinners.

I embrace the idea that Jesus ultimately invites us to be friends rather than master/servants—he said, “call no man your master”.  A friendship is a relationship among equals: there is no hierarchy among friends.

When I embrace what Jesus actually taught, I realize God does not control, compel, or dominate.  The very notion of “divine dictation” is at odds with everything Jesus taught.

God is not a dictator.

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