Monday, July 11, 2011

Mormonism as Hermetic Christianity (part 3)

This is 3rd part where I finally address Mormonism more directly for background on Hermetic Christianity: Part1 Part2.  The idea that early Mormonism was Hermetic is not original to me.   The best known sources on this are (and they wrote in this order):
In fact it is so blatantly obvious as to be almost indisputable: Divining Rods, Treasure Digging, and Seer Stones; Ritual Magic, Astrology, Talismans (Jupiter talisman); Magic Parchments and Occult Mentors, magic dagger (Mars dagger)....

The King Follet Discourse itself presents a thoroughly Hermetic Christianity.
  • The eternal nature of man
  • The Doctrine of heavenly councils
  • The Plurality of Gods
  • Deification of Saints (theopoiesis or theosis)
  • Temple ordinances 
  • The Celestial Kingdom
Mormons often bristle at the mention of magic, "occult" and "magick" are loaded terms.  Magick is used in a Christian context to be supernatural activities that the religion either doesn't believe in or doesn't support; which tautologically wouldn't apply here. Occult is generally used to mean non-Christian religious activity / form of worship, which again wouldn't apply.   "Religious rite" would be a positive term.  If one believes the Eucharistic celebration, baptism, efficiency of prayer, reconciliation by confession, marriage, laying of hands / conferring of holy orders, anointing the sick are all magick actives.  They all rely on "as above, so below", they all assert that via. material manipulations supernatural events can be induced.   Without this core belief religion is reduced to a gathering of an ethical society, so really what distinguished the Mormon church was that it was re-introducing older rites back into a mainstream faith, that is doing precisely what it had always claimed to be doing restoring the church.

It is worth pointing out that Evangelical Christianity, rejects completely the notion of sacraments instead often asserting that there rituals are merely "ordinances",  demonstrations of faith that have no supernatural effects what-so-ever.  They can often be quite inconsistent in this view, but not withstanding Protestantism has been moving away from even the sacramental theology of Catholicism for its entire history.  Such an ideology is needless to say hostile to introductions of more religious rites, and especially claims that such rites are claimed to be efficacious.   There is no getting around this core disagreement between the Mormon church and Evangelical churches, but it is worth pointing out the core disagreement would be equally strong with the Catholic church.  Phillip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics, points out that generation by generation modern Protestants adopt point after point after point of the Gnostic positions on where they disagreed with the Orthodox.  There is no question that Gnosticism and Hermeticism looked at the world in fundamentally different ways, and still do today.

The 2nd generation of Mormons extended these ideas.  Orson Pratt argued that all life, including vegetable life was infused with celestial spirit.  Brigham Young asserted the divinity of Adam.  God himself was viewed as interacting with the universe Hermetically:
Universal Matter Is Indestructible. Matter is eternal, that is, everlasting. Whether the various forms of matter may be converted one into the other, is not definitely known. Any such conversion would, however, leave the total quantity of matter unchanged. God, the supreme Power, can not conceivably originate matter; he can only organize matter. Neither can he destroy matter. God is the Master, who, because of his great knowledge, knows how to use the elements, already existing, for the building of whatever he may have in mind. The doctrine that God made the earth or man from nothing becomes, therefore, an absurdity. The doctrine of the indestructibility of matter makes possible much theological reasoning that would be impossible without this doctrine. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints 
and from this comes the a Hermetic doctrine of salvation:
Self-effort, the conscious operation of will, has moved man onward to his present high degree. However, while all progress is due to self-effort, other beings of power may contribute largely to the ease of man's growth. God, standing alone, cannot conceivably possess the power that may come to him if the hosts of other advancing and increasing workers labor in harmony with him. Therefore, because of his love for his children and his desire to continue in the way of   even greater growth, he proceeded to aid others in their onward progress. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints
So the 2nd generation was continuing the themes of Joseph Smith's work, divinity of Adam is implied in Doctrine and Covenants 27:11; 116:1; 138:38, but made explicit in 1852.  Now its interesting this is the same time that polygamy becomes institutionalized.   That is, if we look at the Joseph Smith, Joseph and possibly a small number of leaders practice plural marriage, and often this involves little more than having sex with multiple woman as they continue to reside with their previous husbands.  Sect leaders acting as "alpha males" and having sex with multiple female members is not out of the ordinary.  Other leaders like Brigham Young are marrying widows who would be unlikely to find new husbands, essentially he seems to be primary funding and modeling a social security program.

What is out of the ordinary is the polygamy that starts in 1852, here you have 20-33% of the men in the church having 2 and quite often more wives.  Humans produce male and female children in roughly equal numbers, polygamous households would create a massive shortage of marriageable women.    I can see only 4 possibilities for how this would play out in practice:

  1. There is a wide age discrepancy men and their wives, men marry late women early.  The problem with this scenario is that it creates a large number of middle aged widows, who naturally do not wish to remain chaste for life and a large number of men who until their 30s are getting their sexual activity elsewhere.  This is basically the situation in the high middle ages, which I described in a defense against patriarchy part 5.  We see no signs of this, in fact the whole reason Joseph is marrying women is because the church is so firmly opposed to extra marital sex.    
  2. Same sort of age discrepancy as the first situation but with a small number of women with a large number of male lovers, essentially a prostitution culture.  Again, given the opposition to extra marital sex this is unlikely.  We have no record of anything like this.
  3. Effective polyandry.  That would be a situation where the head of household marries a woman and shares him with his sons until they are old enough to establish their own households.   This is not an uncommon human sexual arrangement, for example it is the norm still in Tibet (though in this case brothers share).    But, there is 0 evidence for it being the norm in 1850s Utah.  
  4. There was an over abundance of women.  Given the Mormons were actively engaging in missions, if say 70+% of the recruits were female and they were losing even a small number of missionaries to apostasy, this would create a huge imbalance.  
So if for a moment we assume (4) is what actually was the case, we see immediately the problem.  The women recruits need to be fed and housed.  One could have large numbers of women living in sort of convent setup, or amply opportunity for women to work and live alone.  But given a gender imbalance new recruits might not have an opportunity to marry, and whether they did or didn't without widespread polygamy the culture would have had a large number of sexually available women, creating lots of extra marital sex.  So an ethical way to handle that would by polygamy.   And if you ask what sorts of women would have been attracted to a Hermetic faith, the budding Spiritualist movement comes immediately to mind.  Young women from conservative backgrounds unhappy with their strict lifeless churches, would easily be drawn into the affirming Mormon faith of the 1850s.  Moreover polygamy effectively creates a situation of a male head of household and a large number of women in a relationship of sisterhood, and a desire for female bonding and not the isolation of 1850s middle class America drew in a lot of the Spiritualists and drew them away from Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Anglican... churches.

So the 2nd generation of Mormon leaders had a membership that was primarily composed of either the the children of the religious radicals that had followed Joseph in Kirtland, in Zion in Nauvoo or Spiritualist female converts.  Every step Brigham Young took towards Hermetic Christianity would have been met with strong approval.  The goal was integration and maintaining them within the church authority, "ministrations for the salvation and exaltation of the world can only be obtained  by one holding the keys of the oracles of God, as a medium  through  which  the  living  can  hear  from  the  dead." (Journal of Discourses, , 1:36, 1855).  Brigham Young said:
"You are right," say I. Yes, we belong to that higher order of Spiritualism; our revelations are from above, yours from beneath. This is the difference. We receive revelation from Heaven, you receive your revelations from every foul spirit that has departed this life, and gone out of bodies of robbers, murderers, highwaymen, drunkards, thieves, liars and every kind of debauched character, whose spirits are floating a round here, and searching and seeking whom they can destroy; for they are the servants of the devil, and they are permitted to come now to reveal to the people. . . . That is the difference between the two spiritual systems—yes, this is the higher order of spiritualism, to be led, governed and controlled by law, and that, too, the law of heaven that governs and controls the Gods and the angels. (Brigham Young,  "The  Word  of Wisdom—Spiritualism,"  JD 13:274-83, 281)

But in the 3rd generation this completely shifts.  We can see this immediate by looking at the temples.  First generation temples like Nauvoo are loaded with Hermetic symbolism, the image on the left is a "sunstone" known to occultists as the symbol for Ba'al.

Second generation temples are simlarly Hermetic, Salt Lake City for examples has: Earthstones, Moonstones, Sunstones, Cloudstones, Starstones, a representation of the big dipper,  clasping hands, all-seeing eye (the most fameous Hermetic symbol derived from the eye of Horus, from eye of Ra and before that the eye hieroglyph of the goddess Wadjet).

Third generation temples feature geometric shapes in a sort of toned down art deco style.  The art is so de-personel except for a few details like the baptistry could be mosques.

Religiously a neo-orthodoxy starts which emphasizes the atonement of Jesus rather than traditional Mormon teachings.  And moreover there is almost no progression towards Hermeticism.  Mormons stop in this generation and from the 1950s outright reverse course.  I suspect there are 3 reasons for this:
  1. The church is no longer being led by religious radicals, but rather conservatives.  The leaders the 1880 church are not the sort of men who would have joined with a wild young prophet in Kirtland, even missionary efforts start to fall off.   
  2. The membership is 4th generation and Mormons don't want the struggles of being outside the mainstream.
  3. The changes in Spiritualism have made Spiritualist bad recruits and at the same time Mainline Christianity is amenable to restoration.  So the church needs to emphasize its similarities with mainline Christianity.   
  4. The Spiritualism inside the church is becoming more threatening to the Mormon faith.  

(1) and (2) are frequently discussed.  And its important to understand the the 3rd generation of leadership was acting broadly in line with these goals:

  • The abolition of Christian Socialism.  Mormons would no longer have a closed economy but engage the larder American economy. 
  • A generation later Mormons would abandon the People's Party (the Mormon party in Utah) and instead become Republicans and Democrats.
  • Polygamy was abandoned.
  • Rather than wanting distance from the American government the Mormon church worked hard to address the issues preventing Utah from becoming a state. 


But (3) and (4) have not been raised, and I think it gives insight into why the Mormon church is becoming more mainstream.   In 1877  Helena Petrovna Blavatsky bursts onto the religious scene with the immensely popular and influential Isis Unveiled.   Isis Unveiled, transformed Hermetic Christianity and the spiritual movement.  Up until then the movement had seen itself as restoring a better form of Christianity, peeling off layer after layer of dead traditions that pulled one away from the simple pure message of Jesus.    Blavatsky threw down the gauntlet, the picture you see to the right is not Jesus, its Dionysus from hundreds of years before Christianity emerged.  As we talked about briefly in the first part, Jesus emerged from dying reborn gods: Hermes Trismegistus and Sophia.  Behind them stand: Adonis, Tammuz, Amun-Mir, Attis and back another layer Horus, the son of Isis, Isis unveiled as the mother of all faiths.

The problem for restorationist Christianity is the layers are the onion.  Everything is pagan if you go back far enough, religious debates are more than anything else about which pagan gods to follow in their modern forms.  I suspect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, like all Hermitic Christians, were shook by Blavatsky.  I think the 3rd generation of church leaders, saw where their fellow travelers a few steps ahead had gone and lost their nerve, they began to doubt in a truly profound way Joseph Smith's vision in 1820 and where it led, and froze in their tracks.  And from there started to regress slowly back to the Evangelical mainstream.

Moreover just as the dynamics of missionary activity and membership had encouraged the 2nd generation in building towards Joseph's vision the dynamics of the Isis Unveiled moved things in the opposite direction.  The new Spiritualists stopped being Hermetic and became Gnostic with groups like  Theosophy and Christian Science being the mainstream.  Gnosticism, with its deep suspicion of any temporal leadership especially religious leadership and its profound individualism would have run counter to everything the church would desire in recruits.  Spiritualists from the late 1870s on, would have been terrible missionary candidates, very difficult to integrate after their baptism.  Finally, because the church had recruited heavily among Spiritualists it had deep problems in preventing this new anti-authoritarian Spiritualism from infecting the church.   Quite simply the bridge no longer served its purpose.

At the same time, mainstream Christianity was itself going through a quest for Christian primitivism.  What would become Liberal Christianity was fermenting in every mainstream denomination.  The idea that the creeds were an artificial barrier to understanding the scriptures, was no longer a radical idea.  Moreover, a critique that the bible was not the inerrant word of God, but rather an inaccurately transmitted creation of church was becoming more mainstream.  Why go after a niche when the broader public was available?

The next hundred years would be a time of the LDS more and more and more integrating into the mainstream of America and trying to make the Mormon faith seem absolutely mainstream.  But the membership appears to not share that goal and has held on to the revelations of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  When McConkie's Mormon Doctrine was pulled Sandra Tanner commented on the radio (link)
I believe the main reason McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” was taken out of print was due to its candid discussion of LDS doctrines that the church is now trying to hide. Such teachings as God once being a man, his wife–Heavenly Mother, and Jesus being the literal, physical son of God are just a few of the doctrines that are being minimized in current manuals. If the LDS Church felt “Mormon Doctrine” presented a faulty compilation of their doctrines, why haven’t they issued an authorized compendium of their beliefs? Mormons often say to me, “That’s not official doctrine” as though there was some place to look up the official teachings. Where is the official systematic theology of Mormonism?
And that leads us to where we are today.  A church leadership intent on mainstreaming a radical form of Christianity.  A constant tug of war between the goals of restoration of the primitive church, and a desire to acceptance.  Arguably repeating the very mistakes that led to the great apostasy (see part 2 on the orignal death of Hermetic Christianity).
____

I hope this argument proves for both Evangelicals and Mormons that Hermetic Christian offers a compromise meeting the goals I set out in the first part of this essay.   Now I'd like to comment on why its something Mormons should enthusiastically embrace:

Lady Gaga, the number one entertainer in the world, has built an empire on the emotional and intellectual draw of Hermetic imagery.  Its not just her presentation its her content.  The video for Bad Romance is a phenomenal exposition of what Mormons would call the estates of progression and atonement.  Like Song of Songs it uses sex as a metaphor, for the relationship with God, which generally makes conservatives uncomfortable, though Mormons I suspect less so given a theology in which God is a father in a more literal sense.  I'd challenge any Mormon to watch the video, which opens with the scratched star (link to this symbol from the DC temple), moves right on to birth in spirit vs. birth in flesh, talking in the mirror reflecting the relationship between spirit and flesh in prayer, birth in water (Eve) in innocence...her flashing the all-seeing eye  and not see obvious material for a dozen sermons?  What other church with millions of members and a missionary culture has a symbology tied to their theology that incorporates this symbolism?  Who else can explain in a Christian context what those visuals mean?  This is a slow-ball they should have been able to hit out of the park.

And this video isn't uniquely rich.   Judas presents salvation where the Lady Gaga character rejects Jesus choosing Judas instead fails to be saved and becomes the Whore of Babylon in Revelations.  Just about any Christian could present the theology in those verses but only the Mormon and Catholic churches have a semiotics rich enough to explore the accompanying visuals, and the Catholic church lacks a missionary culture.  I'm not suggesting a theology book based on Lady Gaga for Mormons, I suspect the amount skin shown makes her a problematic source, but rather the fact that the number one musical act to come along in a long time is preaching their message and they won't take advantage is depressing.

Mormons are gong to have a culture conflict with any modern Hermetic Christianity.  But putting the problems aside, we live in a a time when youth are losing all interest in churches and retention is terrible, there is one major church in the United States and possibly the world with the resources, missionary culture, understanding and theology to fill this gap, a desire to relate to God expressed Hermetically.  The Mormon church has the ace of trump for the millennial generation. But as we discussed above over the last 100 years rather than embrace their Hermetic aspects the Mormon church has been losing their distinctives:  these videos are the temple imagery acted out.

The Mormon church was founded by a man with no official station who used divination to arrive at new revelations and understandings of the scriptures.   Was that a legitimate activity?     The church still claims prophetic powers, though rarely uses them. Judaism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity all claim the time of revelation is over and now all we can do is study the existing revelations and draw meanings. Christian mysticism allows for personal insights but argues that drawing doctrinal conclusions is illegitimate.  In the 21st century does the Mormon church want to be the sort of place it was in the 19th century or the sort of place the 19th century Mormons were fleeing?

Back in the 1950s there was a move within the Seventh Day Adventist church to eliminate the few remaining distinctives that prevented them from being seen as orthodox, to join the Evangelical mainstream.  The book Questions on Doctrine, was a series of answers to questions that toned down Adventist beliefs, getting them to just barely qualify.   In their case it was being driven by their academics who wanted to be able to speak and not just attend Evangelical conferences.  The Adventist membership reacted strongly, in their mind if they had wanted to join an Evangelical church they would have.   And today I still don't see 7th Day Adventists invited to Evangelical conferences as speakers, Evangelicals still detest Ellen White.

For the Mormons, they could throw out 90% of their distinctives and still not be where the Adventists were in the 1950s.   Ellen White wrote commentaries about the bible, Joseph Smith wrote (translated) his own bible.   Ellen White shifted the theological focus of salvation from Romans to Hebrews with its heavenly sanctuary, Brigham Young redefined heaven.    The unique characteristics of the Mormon church are what make it so special.  The Mormon church should play to its plentiful strengths, it should happily identify as Hermetic Christians.

_____

See also:

36 comments:

Jettboy said...

I think you over-analyzed this by relying too heavily on Quinn, Owens, and Brookes, making the same mistakes they do. There has not been enough discussion on the "Christian" aspects of the "Hermetic" points of contact. I would suggest reading my post on Mormon Grace for the start of a more balanced theological discussion.

Another problem you run into is the same mistake that the Tanners imply that McConkie's Mormon Doctrine is criticized and rejected by conservative Mormons. That simply is not true, as conservative religious Mormons are the ones that continue to refer to and defend his teachings the most (see here and here and here for example). Even his son, who is considered religiously conservative, has questioned the ecumenicism that has been going on for a while. I do too to be frank. Its the liberal factions that seek to mythologize, de-emphasis, and generally mock the founding articles and history of Mormonism.

Yet, I do challenge the conclusions here that seem to de-Christianize Mormonism. Not that I know if you intended that or not or if its too big of a subject to tackle on a blog. Its the liberal such as Quinn and Ownes, with the help of outsiders like Brooke, that have taken the Hermetic parts of Mormonism and made them out to be the whole. Mormons only started downplaying these aspects after powerful outside sources, like the United States of America and specifically the Protestants and Atheists, pounded it out of them. And continue to do so, like Brooke's book that sounds logical until you start understanding the theological contexts of the uses of the symbols. It has to be acknowledged the hermetic aspects exist, but its never talked about how they were reinterpreted and made unique to Mormonism.

CD-Host said...

This post was originally posted under part 2 link and there you can see a dialogue on it.

Clark said...

Interesting set of posts. A few comments. (Parts in italics are quotes from your post)

The church is no longer being led by religious radicals, but rather conservatives. The leaders the 1880 church are not the sort of men who would have joined with a wild young prophet in Kirtland, even missionary efforts start to fall off.

Do you mean 1980's here or 1880's? Because the leaders in the 1880's are most explicitly still the sort of men who joined with a wild young prophet. The figures in the 1980's are more complex and form a kind of intermediary place between those leaders immediately after the transition from 1890-1920 and then contemporary leaders we have today. It's an interesting period but I think one can easily push too far against "radicalism." I think their main focus was how to guide the Church during a period of massive growth into the rest of the world. That doesn't mean they somehow aren't people who'd be attracted to what you term radicalism. Just that the problems they have as their focus are quite different. Also they really are the first leaders to have to grapple with what we'd call the modern corporate world. (i.e. the transformation of the west post WWII)

The changes in Spiritualism have made Spiritualist bad recruits and at the same time Mainline Christianity is amenable to restoration. So the church needs to emphasize its similarities with mainline Christianity.

I think we have to careful with the issue of spiritualism. The British Spiritualism movement actually constituted a large number of converts in the 1870's but there was a rather significant backlash against this by the LDS leadership under Brigham Young leading to more centralization of authority. The second major effect was apostate movements in Utah, Arizona and Mexico when Mormon leaders abandoned polygamy and various communitarian experiments. Because those apostate groups would point to spiritual claims as justifying the apostasy there was once again more centralization of authority as well as some distrust of such matters. However more significant was just the Americanization of the Church as the cosmopolitan moves of the media changes from the 1950's through 1990's. That is due to radio, magazines and TV Utah was no longer isolated but more mainstream. However I'd argue that through all of this the more charismatic and spiritualistic aspects of Mormonism persisted but simply became more private and less shared before the world.

The Spiritualism inside the church is becoming more threatening to the Mormon faith

Yes and no, as noted above. Spiritualism going against the Church itself was a problem. So there was active distrust of spiritualism yet simultaneously still a lot of emphasis on spiritualism. This gets into a fairly complex discussion though. There's a certain double-move at work. Interestingly it's quite analogous in some ways to what happened in the early Church at the time of Joseph Smith.

The next hundred years would be a time of the LDS more and more and more integrating into the mainstream of America and trying to make the Mormon faith seem absolutely mainstream. But the membership appears to not share that goal and has held on to the revelations of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

I think this a bit of a false dichotomy.

A church leadership intent on mainstreaming a radical form of Christianity. A constant tug of war between the goals of restoration of the primitive church, and a desire to acceptance.

I agree there's an essential tension at work. A lot of what you call mainstreaming could also be seen as building bridges on common ground. And of course there is a lot of common ground. Often many misunderstandings are more due to differences in rhetoric rather than real content. (Which isn't to deny real differences, just that I think the degree of difference is often exaggerated)

CD-Host said...

Hi Clark welcome to the blog!

Do you mean 1980's here or 1880's? Because the leaders in the 1880's are most explicitly still the sort of men who joined with a wild young prophet.

No I meant 1880, you're free to disagree but that was the point the third generation of leadership. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young are people who took on governments, completely transformed a religion, completely changed social norms, formed a new society. 1880s guys I don't see doing much of that, this is the generation that mainstreamed as I talk about in the post. They abandon polygamy, abandon Christian socialism, pushed for statehood...

The British Spiritualism movement actually constituted a large number of converts in the 1870's but there was a rather significant backlash against this by the LDS leadership under Brigham Young leading to more centralization of authority.

Interesting! You got more details or links or? I'd love to some data for my theory.

I agree there's an essential tension at work. A lot of what you call mainstreaming could also be seen as building bridges on common ground. And of course there is a lot of common ground. Often many misunderstandings are more due to differences in rhetoric rather than real content. (Which isn't to deny real differences, just that I think the degree of difference is often exaggerated)

Would you like to elaborate? What I'm getting is you don't think there was a shift just a toning down of rhetoric?

Clark said...

No I meant 1880, you're free to disagree but that was the point the third generation of leadership.

You know if you said 1897 I'd probably agree. But in 1880 a lot of the major figured converted in the early days of Mormonism were still alive. Recall that Woodruff becomes President in 1887 and Woodruff was converted in 1833 and was one of the major figures in the famous British mission in 1839. He WAS one of those charismatic figures you said were no longer in leadership. That's why it's so significant he disbands public polygamy in 1890. However, as I'm sure you know, the leadership despite publicly getting rid of it tries to keep it's practice in private ongoing. (Mirroring what went on in the 1840's in Nauvoo) This causes no end of headaches to the real third generation in the dawn of the 20th century. But that's after Woodruff and a bunch of the others die off in the 1890's.

So I think you're just off in dates by about 15 years or more. The 1880's are the height of the leadership fighting with the government over polygamy. One could argue that Woodruff gets rid of it because they are losing.

As for the Spiritualist movement I'd look up on the Godbeite movement. A good book is Walker's Wayward Saints: The Godbeites and Brigham Young. It's an interesting history with contemporary implications since it led to the creation of the Salt Lake Tribune and the source of tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons in political (and press) matters for nearly 100 years.

As for the later, yes, I think there was primarily a change in rhetoric but also a limiting of who you talk with about spiritual experiences.

Clark said...

To add, I'd date the "third generation" to the rise of Grant in leadership. He's different in several ways. I'm not sure "third generation" is accurate. I'd say second generation. But he's born in 1854 in Utah. (His father was a counselor to Brigham Young) He's thus raised in the era of persecution over polygamy but has no real experience with the pre-Utah days. He becomes a banker and thus has much more experience with capitalism and business. He transitions the Church from communitarian experiments into more what we now think of as the welfare system. More significantly he pushes back hard against those still trying to have the late 19th century society. He's the main figure of transition. In a sense he has feet in both worlds but moves the Church towards the modern world.

For a great book on this, if you are interested, I'd look at Alexander's Mormonism in Transition. It's not the best prose but remains the best general treatment of this transitory period from the early Utah Church to the modern international Church.

I'd date the "third generation" more to David O McKay who then is the first leader I'd call a modern Mormon. (Although his predecessor, George Albert Smith, was only slightly older - both reacher their 20's when polygamy had ended whereas Grant still practiced it)

To my latter point about how Mormons view the miraculous I should add this is a bit of a controversial topic. I'm only giving my own view that there is much more continuity than not. Personally I think a strong view of continuing spiritual gifts is huge for many Mormons. However this thread will show there is a division on the issue - which probably reflects a lot the other Mormons people encounter.

CD-Host said...

Clark --

Re. Woodruff. Hmmm good point. That would make him 2nd generation leadership, assuming he was in Joseph's inner circle. Was he?

If I just shift everything forward about 15 years. The problem is that generation where Isis Unveiled affects Spiritualism happens the generation before. 1890 we have Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis. In some ways, the whole idea has changed. In Isis she's arguing that Isis stands behind all religion in those later works she's talking about a secret wisdom underlying all religions when they are stripped of accretions and superstition. She's essentially "de-mythologizing" paganism, but there are advocates inside Christianity who are arguing for the same thing.

As I was talking to Jettboy, that doesn't seem to have had as much influence on LDS, which is why this is still a hot topic today. The attack is too broad by then, it simply wouldn't be influential on any sort of Mormon spiritualist, I don't think. So I'm kinda stuck.

Anyway thanks for the comment about Godbeite I added a link! It seems they weren't a huge mass movement but more of a small group of dissenters, you agree? All right lets go back a generation. What do you think leads to mass polygamy under Brigham? That's the real historical quandary, that drove this hypothesis. If there isn't a huge influx of women how does the Mormon community of 1850 not end up with something like effective polyandry or a prostitution culture?

As for the generation counts here is how I was using them.

Joseph Smith -- 1st generation. There is an institutional church under him for many years.
Brigham Young -- 2nd generation.
XXX -- 3rd generation. People who rose to leadership under Brigham but were either young or non members under Joseph. A cultural break.
YYY -- 4th generation. I agree with you here. People trying to integrate the church into broader America.

But really what's driving this is:
1st generation -- Leadership is in direct contact with God. Hermetic rites.
2nd generation -- Leadership is pulling together the revelations of the 1st generation. Hermetic theology.
3rd generation -- Institutional structures for an ongoing church, not dependent on further direct revelation (in large measure). Backing off Hermeticism.

Part of the issue I think in reading your comments on the other thread you linked to regarding spiritual gifts (interesting conversation) is you disagree there was as much of a cultural break but rather a very gradual shift. Which would mean this entire essay was dead wrong :)

Clark said...

Yes, but that structure you're trying to force on the history (i.e. movement away from heremeticism) doesn't quite work I think. Consider the place of Joseph F. Smith (of D&C 138 fame). Where does he fit in for example? I think things are just much more complex. That's not to say the more general sociological thesis about religions starting with a strong charismatic element and necessarily moving towards a more corporate existence isn't true. Clearly it is. But I think we have to be careful not to read the hermetic thesis on top of that sociological thesis.

To the degree there's a move away from hermeticism it's much more the rhetoric or symbolism of hermeticism. But that happens simply because people are less and less a part of that culture. (Thus the de-masonification of the temple rituals through the 20th century)

CD-Host said...

Hi Clark --

I'm not sure if you were pointing me to something else or D&C 138. As far as D&C 138 its definitely Mormon, but essentially it is a church leader giving a sermon using a prophetic language. Non pentecostal Protestants wouldn't do that, because culturally its unacceptable but a Catholic would. In some sense its lacking in the rich symbology you would associate with Hermetic language.

Its a very literal description of a highly supernatural vision. He's not prophesying something outside what would have been doctrine in 1918. I'd consider that almost non-Hermetic. That's almost like a form of exegesis, religious imagery but he's not introducing new imagery in anyway. So sorry, I'm not quite getting how you see him contradicting what I was saying.

CD-Host said...

To the degree there's a move away from hermeticism it's much more the rhetoric or symbolism of hermeticism. But that happens simply because people are less and less a part of that culture. (Thus the de-masonification of the temple rituals through the 20th century)

I'm glad you were willing to go there, in terms of the use of mason. I'd shied away from that. But O.K. if you were going with the hypothesis.... the Freemasons by most accounts absorbed a lot of Hermetic ritual somewhere earlier in their history, which makes sense since they were founded at the tail end of the Hermetic revival. There is a lot of Mason ritual in the temple ceremonies. Its entirely possible to say that Joseph Smith didn't mean anything by the symbolism, he was justing using a handy source for: a ritual that was mysterious, different than church... and so he took it from the Masons who in upstate NY of the 19th century probably didn't attach much meaning to the Hermetic rituals either. And then as you indicate, not a lot of Mormons are Masons anymore at all so the church just moved away, there wasn't any deep meaning to the sift.

In other words I'm attaching too much theological meaning to what is a sociological shift.

Traditional Christianity absolutely central claim is "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures"

a) The death and resurrection of Jesus
b) That this death was a sin sacrifice
c) That this event was in accord with the scriptures i.e. a continuation of the Jewish bible.

And so far so good. But Christians are emphatic that:

d) This death and resurrection was an earthly event, "For Jesus really and truly was crucified under Pontius Pilate".

(to be continued)

CD-Host said...

(part 2)

I don't think Moses existed and the Exodus ever happened. But the historicity of the exodus has been a key claim of Judaism. Lose the Exodus and Yahweh is just a tribal deity whose main claim to fame is hitching his wagon to a much more successful religion.

You've argued that I should drop the historical identification and drop the connection with modern day Hermetic Christian groups. If I essentially drop Joseph's historical claim, that there is any sect that Mormons can identify with then Joseph Smith isn't restoring a church he's constructing a church. And this church has:

a) New set of scriptures radically different in content
b) New set of rituals
c) New claims about the nature of god, which break all the creeds.
d) Full denial of all 5 solas of Protestantism while not accept the Catholic hierarchy.

It sounds like you are basically asserting all the major claims of anti-Mormons are true other than their belief that their hermeneutic is the right one.

Is the debate in your mind between hermeneutical methods or actual history?

I don't see how Mormonism can be in any sense "true" if I drop historicity entirely. I don't believe that there was anything like a Judaism prior to about 600 BCE. That is I believe Jews are wrong about Moses, Abraham, the Kings and Chronicles are all a complication of legends. But if Jews came to believe my view of history: the Exodus was purely symbolic, there was no actual physical Abraham, there was no actual first temple that the "second temple" was the first temple then the religion ceases to be a historic faith.

I guess the bigger question is do Mormons meaningfully consider themselves to belong to a historic faith that makes historic claims? Trinitarian Wicca would be an example an a-historic faith with a Christian pantheon.

There is nothing wrong with being a-historic, proto-Christianity IMHO was Hellenistic and thus heavily a-historic in their view of Jesus, so in some sense moving from historic to a-historic probably is a restoration... but... the whole concept of restoration at least to me seems like a historic one. What's the argument for saying the original is better than the distorted copy otherwise?

Does this step back make sense?

Jettboy said...

"If I essentially drop Joseph's historical claim, that there is any sect that Mormons can identify with then Joseph Smith isn't restoring a church he's constructing a church."

Mormons have never claimed we are historic Christians. I think you are misinterpreting Joseph Smith's historical claim. He claims a Restoration of Christianity that hasn't existed since near the death of the New Testament Apostles; not of what was if all Christianity was researched, but what was lost with mere shadows remaining. What happened has been described by apologist Hugh Nibley as when the lights went out on the Primitive Church. Mormons would say that we have:

a) New set of scriptures (along with and complimentary of the Bible) different in content.
b) (some) New set of rituals (not known to any Christian Church after the last Bible book was written), particularly in relation to the Temple.
c) New claims about the nature of god (from what we interpret from the Bible and more importantly modern revelations), which break all the creeds.
d) Full denial of all 5 solas of Protestantism while not accepting the Catholic hierarchy.

Clark said...

I guess I have a hard time seeing D&C 138 as just giving a sermon "using prophet language." Maybe it's because I'm within the Mormon tradition but to me it's very much within the Joseph Smith style. It's closest parallel to me is D&C 76. So I just don't think you can discount it like that, especially since it was rather significant in introducing new doctrine into the Church.

I agree it lacks the heavy symbolism though. But as I said that why I think we need to keep the two topics separate: rhetorical style and content. I think there is an hermetic element to both but we shouldn't conflate them.

I've not argued we should drop the historical connection. (Far from it) Rather I just think that what we should see as significant (either in the 19th century or the ancient near east) is much more complex than it first appears. There may be non-essential rhetorical parallels, there may be content parallels, and there may be that there are parallels in ritual (which I'm somewhat divorcing from rhetoric). I don't deny that however it seems that even if one accepts a connection (as I do) that one also will acknowledge a lot that is non-essential and accidental. More or less all I am suggesting is that one should keep a hermeneutics of suspicion towards apologetics even while of necessity engaging in it.

So I do think Mormons are making historical claims. (I think it a necessity that Mormons claim there were historical Nephites even if some individual Mormons adopt a hermeneutics towards the Book of Mormon akin to what you adopt towards pre-exilic Judaism)

CD-Host said...

Hi clark
So I just don't think you can discount it like that, especially since it was rather significant in introducing new doctrine into the Church.

What doctrines did it introduce? Assurance of salvation? I'm reading a commentary and they give this D&C 138 as assuring a large number (225,000 but I don't see where that number came from) will become Gods.

Its possible I simply lack the discernment at this point to understand what I'm seeing with D&C 138. What was so key about it?

There may be non-essential rhetorical parallels, there may be content parallels, and there may be that there are parallels in ritual (which I'm somewhat divorcing from rhetoric). I don't deny that however it seems that even if one accepts a connection (as I do) that one also will acknowledge a lot that is non-essential and accidental.

I like your break out here of
a) rhetoric
b) content
c) ritual

That's a nice division, good clarification. In the case of JS you clearly see a-c throughout his career. And you see multiple instances of all of them and very unusually high levels of all of them for New England Protestants. Which is why I feel comfortable saying collectively it doesn't seem accidental. I think he was drawn to it.

Again I may be missing 138, but we agree it doesn't have (a) or (c). I don't see the (b) but hopefully you can point out what I'm missing.

I think it a necessity that Mormons claim there were historical Nephites

Could you expand on that one? This sort of hits on the dialogue in we are having in part 2. Why do you see this as necessary for Mormonism?

CD-Host said...

Hi Jettboy --

I think you are misinterpreting Joseph Smith's historical claim.... What happened has been described by apologist Hugh Nibley as when the lights went out on the Primitive Church.

Wow that was a great essay! That's a bit much to absorb. I agree with Nibley's core idea there are 3 not to options, and yep I never considered the 3rd. I may to get back to you a little on this one after I've had more time to mull that over... Its a terrific framework, because it essentially sees both the gnosticism and the proto-Catholicism as strangling the true infant church.

This is sort of the view I've seen with people who hold to an Essene Christianity that gets perverted early. Generally though Paul is seen as the villain, with John the Baptist, Peter and James representing the true church. For example Robert Eisenman constructs argues the original Christianity is what we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Jesus as myth.
James the head of a faction, "the teacher of righteousness"
High Priest Ananus ben Ananus 'the Wicked Priest'
Saint Paul 'The man of lying'
In my Paul's evil twin the 2nd scenario is essentially Eisenman's.

Its believable, its historically defensible. Its consistent with Archeological finds after Joseph Smith died, but... how the heck can you have that theory and then use the New Testament which would essentially all come from the apostate church? Luke/Acts is one giant pro-Catholic apologetic, reworking the early history to seeing the 2nd century church as a continuation with the (then lost) 1st century Jerusalem church.

I can maybe see keeping Hebrews, Revelations. Even more questionable category I'd put Mark, John. The Catholic Epistles (James, Jude..) minus 1Peter. But that's about it. You can add First Epistle of Clement, the Jewish Apocrypha, Didache, Shepherd of Hermes, Gospel of the Hebrews...

It makes even less sense to keep the Protestant bible. There incidentally is a whole lot of Sufi stuff that is pretty early that supports that position. And of course since the church is guided by prophets you can pull in DSS stuff.

We talked about this before on your blog in terms of keeping the KJV. But, now you are talking the authentic Christianity died well before most of the bible's books were even written, and a good chunk of those books were written by the people killing it.

I guess what my immediate reaction is, that Mormonism seems an under reaction if that's the theory. For example that would put Jewish back on the table.

Jettboy said...

Maybe we can continue the KJV blog discussion at my straight and narrow and take it into a new direction to keep down on the clutter for this one. I am sure your on "Mormon" overload. What I just introduced and you asked does put it in a new light. I'll post your questions there later. They are good ones to be sure now that you have a better idea of what Mormons mean by The Great Apostasy.

I also answered another of your questions. Some of the 5 are actually part of one discussion. Its also more spiritual and theological based than legalistic. Baptism isn't an easy topic if your looking for more than the basics. That is because Mormons can have various interpretations if using your question methods, but the same outcome; joining the Church.

CD-Host said...

Discussion with Jettboy regarding the canon moved to Straight and Narrow Blog: The Mormons and KJV Bible

Clark said...

Regarding belief in the Book of Mormon as historical rather than inspired fiction I think the problem is that if it's fiction it completely undermines Joseph as a prophet. And if he's not a prophet in any normal sense why be Mormon at all? That is if we can discount claims about Nephites why not claims about baptism or the importance of being a Mormon.

CD-Host said...

Clark --

Heck, I don't think there is anything historical in the Book of Mormon and I consider Joseph a great prophet. Its entirely possible to hold that view. As long as you hold a low view of the historicity of scripture in general.

That is, if you are relatively liberal in your interpretation of scripture most of the prophets are historically inaccurate. If you are literalist then just engage in the same games for the BoM you would need to engage in for the NT and OT. I'm not sure I see any particular problems with BoM in that regard.

If you are willing to grant that:

That is if we can discount claims about Nephites why not claims about baptism or the importance of being a Mormon.

Then note in your question, there is nothing specifically Mormon here. This is a just a general issue: can a Christianity exist if we can no longer believe in myths used to authenticate it? Kerygma and Myth part 1, part 2. I think its fair to say that because of the Hermetic themes along with Mormon materialism that we have been talking about Mormon Christianity is if anything far less vulnerable to historic attack.

I would argue that the Joseph Smith of the late 30s and 40s and Brigham Young essentially carried out the Bultmann program a century early. They transfered the Bible's story from a Jewish primitivism on a flat earth with a small local heaven to a science fully compatible with 19th century man, and built a consistent theology. And from there it's relatively easy to deal with the extra century since. That's the real accomplishment of Joseph Smith to have done this and managed to build a giant church on it.

Its this transfer that makes the Wheat and Tares article about String theory and Mormonism possible. Having presupposed a spiritual world reinterpret as a form of disorganized matter of a different nature, we can reinterpret all of scripture in terms of modern mythos. We aren't constantly forced into trying to make ourselves believe the ridiculous which is the effect of actually trying to believe the OT/NT: the flat earth, the demon theory of disease, stars physically falling to earth....

The story about a war that never happened, involving tribes that never existed, is from an earlier phase in Joseph's life. Odd as this may sound I don't see what's vital to Mormonism in the historicity of the BoM. D&C is vital, BoM just provides another set of stories similar to what one finds in the rest of the bible.

Does that make sense? In other words this a-historical Mormonism looks like a successful version of what Bultmann was aiming for. Protestants walked up the fence and decided not to climb it. Catholics got stuck at the top of the fence and fell back to the traditional side. Mormons made it over.

Clark said...

Heck, I don't think there is anything historical in the Book of Mormon and I consider Joseph a great prophet.

Yes, but don't you demonstrate my point? You're Mormon and presumably see little to benefit from joining the Church. If one de-historicizes Church teachings what point is there to being a member? It's a rather "expensive" faith to join.

I think the choice of literalist vs. liberal is a bit of a false dichotomy. I think one can accept historic Nephites while allowing for a reasonable degree of fallibility of prophets and their understanding of things. So let's say I'm halfway between what those often labeled literalist say and what those labeled liberal say. (I think that the typical place for most Mormon apologists)

As for extending the critique to Christianity broadly. I don't think I'd want to go there. I can but say that for me and my experiences a fully de-mythologized Christianity is not of much worth. But if it is for others, more power to them.

I just don't think Mormonism does offer what Bultmann was aiming for simply because the basic presuppositions Bultmann brought to the table in order to make his judgment are so alien to the basic Mormon stance. So I understand why you might make a comment like that. I think it only works if you look at half of what Mormonism is.

Clark said...

Sorry, that first line should read

Yes, but don't you demonstrate my point? You're not Mormon and presumably see little to benefit from joining the Church.

CD-Host said...

Yes, but don't you demonstrate my point? You're Mormon and presumably see little to benefit from joining the Church.

Well actually... The major impediments to Mormonism are issues like:

a) I live in the wrong part of the country. (There is a ward nearby but the activities are still somewhat regional).

b) Cultural clash: no way would I ever support the Republicans, I could care less who wins the Super Bowl.

c) Disagree with the church on matters of practice. Some things like coffee and alcohol would be no big deal. But other like strongly enforcing dating codes on my daughter would be.

d) Not sure how comfortable I'd be submitting to actual people. I don't like authority.

I'm exploring the theology, but the barriers to moving from chatting about on the internet to genuine investigation are those issues. Not historicity.

If I had run into Mormons 20 years ago I definitely would have been an investigator. I don't know what would have happened from there, since that's a different process than admiring from afar. If I had to guess the cultural conservatism would have driven me away PDQ. I was much less culturally liberal then.

If one de-historicizes Church teachings what point is there to being a member? It's a rather "expensive" faith to join.

Something like a third of the American population affiliates and joins churches / synagogues / mosques while being liberal in their viewpoints? Just to put this in perspective, there are over a dozen liberal Protestants for every Mormon, who attend church, tithe... Throw in liberal Catholics, liberal Jews, liberal Buddhists, liberal Muslims and you are well over 20:1.

Jews and Mormons are almost exactly the same size. American Reform Judaism is about to turn 200 years old (started 1824), (so founded about the same time); it is still the largest denomination in North America. It also is expressly anti-Historic with respect to the Old Testament (for them the bible):

We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives.

I think [viewing Mormonism as successfully addressing the Bultmann issues] only works if you look at half of what Mormonism is.

Can you expand? What half am I missing?

Jettboy said...

I would say that half that has Joseph Smith seeing God and Jesus in a Grove; an Angel named Moroni who delivers the Book of Mormon (and the three Witnesses who also see an Angel along with the plates, and eight who see the plates) who happens to be a prophet from that book; John the Baptist that gives the Aaronic and Peter, James, and John who gives the Melchizedek Priesthood; the visions of Moses and Elijah, not to mention Jesus again to restore Temple ordinances for the gathering of Israel. There is a very literal strain in Mormonism that goes beyond considering the Bible historical. Its real.

Joseph Smith said, "We believe the Bible, and all other sects profess to believe their interpretations of the Bible, and their creeds." In other words, the Bible is a living document rather than an ancient history book. The same with the Book of Mormon. To deny the literalism of Mormonism is to ignore the fundamental aspect of the religion; that God and Miracles are alive and well. Not only that, but that we can experience them ourselves. Again Joseph Smith said, "could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam, on the relation of man to God and angels in a future state, we should know very little about it. Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose." In other words, Mormonism is about experiencing the divine and ultimately seeing the Heavens open for yourself. You can't mythologize that without doing serious damage to religious intentions. There is a huge difference between finding the Bible and people to be imperfect and rejecting the miracles it writes about. When Joseph Smith sought authentic Christianity, he didn't mean looking at textual criticism to find the original autographs. He wanted to talk with God and his ancient prophets directly.

CD-Host said...

Jettboy --

Great response! I loved that line from JS, "could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam, on the relation of man to God and angels in a future state, we should know very little about it"

So I'll start by quoting the whole thing from the funeral oration of Adams:

All men know that all men must die.--What is the object of our coming into existence then dying and falling away to be here no more? This is a subject we ought to study more than any other. which we ought to study day and night.--If we have any claim on our heavenly father for any thing it is for knowledge on this important subject--could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam on the relations of man to God & angels. and the spirits of just men in a future state. we should know very little about it.

Could you gaze in heaven 5 minutes you would know more than you possibly can know by read all that ever was written on the subject. We are one only capable of comprehending that certain things exist. which we may acquire by certain fixed principles--

If men would acquired salvation they have got to be subject to certain rules & principles which were fixed by an unalterable decree before the world was, before they leave this world.

what did they learn by coming to the spirits of just men made perfect? is it written. No! The spirits of just men are made ministering servants to those who are sealed unto life eternal. & it is through them that the sealing power comes down-- The spirit of Patriarch adam [Adams] now is one of the spirits of the just men made--and if revealed now, must be revealed in fire. and the glory could not be endured--Jesus shewed himself to his disciples and they thought it was his spirit. & they were afraid to approach his spirit. Angels have advanced higher in knowledge & power than spirits.


(continued)

CD-Host said...

To which I'll reply Amen. Great stuff. The very next line to the one you quoted he seems to be defending the POV, I was advocating "Could you gaze in heaven 5 minutes you would know more than you possibly can know by read all that ever was written on the subject." Believing in historical Nephites teaches you nothing. Rather, "We are one only capable of comprehending that certain things exist. which we may acquire by certain fixed principles-- If men would acquired salvation they have got to be subject to certain rules & principles which were fixed by an unalterable decree before the world was" there is stuff you have to do, not stuff you have to believe.

I hate to with all my 7 weeks of knowledge of Mormonism get into a theological dispute about your scriptures, so I'll admit I'm likely wrong but I'm hard pressed to see how JS isn't agreeing with the ahistorical approach there.

Even your comments, though you go less far than Christian did, "In other words, the Bible is a living document rather than an ancient history book" you believe the bible. Do you believe that the earth is a rock plate, with a dome above it, to which the stars and planets are attached, with water above that which can deluge down and thus formed the oceans and lakes on the earth? Did Satan really take Jesus to a mountain high enough that he could see the whole plate? I assume you along with every other Christian answers "of course not". You transculturate that imagery away.... the bible is using the language of a flat earth but we need to interpret that with our modern understanding....

Sometimes it is done for you when Paul in 2Cor 12:2 says his friend visited Venus (click this link or you will lose this analogy) no one would believe that this guy endured 70 atms of pressure (roughly what you feel a 1/2 mile under the ocean on earth), an atmosphere comprised of sulfuric acid, temperatures hotter than most people's ovens can even be set to, and lightening 50,000 times as strong as the lightening on earth. No one can believe that. But it's only a two words so it's easy enough to translate away. But the effect is to make sure it gets deliberately misinterpreted by the masses. Its only in the ahistorical bibles (like the NISB) the this under translation doesn't occur because they can freely talk about what Paul meant rather than what Paul said. And what Paul meant was trying to describe a mystical experience where he understood the tree of life, conversed with angels in the doman of Raphael.

As you put it, "Mormonism is about experiencing the divine and ultimately seeing the Heavens open for yourself". Exactly! And if Paul's friend was visiting a physical Venus/3rd heaven he didn't see anything, Paul or the friend was just making it up. If Paul's friend was visiting the domain of Raphael and we interpret Venus the way Paul meant it, then this sort of vision quest is open to us we just won't interpret it as having occurred on Venus.

(continued)

CD-Host said...

When Joseph Smith sought authentic Christianity, he didn't mean looking at textual criticism to find the original autographs. He wanted to talk with God and his ancient prophets directly.

I agree. That's what this whole series is about, that's Hermetic Christianity. Its that attitude which is really rare and AFAIK unique on the right, that allowed me to call Mormonism "hermetic". It seeks direct interaction with the world of spirits.

It's Evangelical Christianity that bases its authority on a book that has to fight tooth and nail for the authority of that book. Mormonism bases its authority on one's own relationship with the spirit. Moroni 10:4. Liberal rereads of the scriptures were not a threat in the same way to Catholicism or Judaism because their center of authority was elsewhere. The Pope believes in evolution and comfortable talks about it. I don't think Jews ever considered Adam to be anything other than a mythical symbol. Jews can embrace the recent evidence and new stories/information about Balaam, rather than having to fret that this evidence also shows he was active about 800 BCE (600 to 1200 years too early for the Moses story) because they agree that the Moses stories aren't history but legend and that's legend accretes.

That was the point of my question. I see no reason for Mormonism to pick up Evangelical Christianity's baggage on historicity when it has no need for it. Jared Diamond destroys Joseph Smith in providing the best explanation for what happened to the societies of the Americas. If that's the choice, whose version of events is better supported, Joseph Smith has to lose. That is if JS needed to be right about the origins and history of Native Americans to be a prophet, then there is overwhelming evidence he is not a prophet, and you all are fighting the same battle the Fundamentalists are with respect to evolution.

But if JS needed to be right about how best to interact with God, then he is America's greatest native born prophet. On another blog we are discussing the start of the Manti pageant, and how terrifically JS is address Mary's questions, the questions about this life and how well that pageant points out how little Evangelical Christianity has to say about anything other than one topic and even on that it's incoherent.

At least for me that's what makes JS valuable. If Jared Diamond never lived someone else a few years later would have figured out the ties between various Aztec, Mayan empires and the timelines for the domestication, combination and spread of plants. If JS had never lived its not clear that anything like Mormonism would exist.

I wish we had an openly liberal Mormon to argue this. I can authentically do the liberal part but not the Mormon part.

Jettboy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jettboy said...

sorry, it didn't post correctly.

"That is if JS needed to be right about the origins and history of Native Americans to be a prophet, then there is overwhelming evidence he is not a prophet, and you all are fighting the same battle the Fundamentalists are with respect to evolution."

Of course, I think that is only your opinion. Lots of Mormons don't see it that way and in fact see the Jarod Diamond book neither here nor there in relation to the historiography of the Book of Mormon. Strangely enough, this discussion has brought me to the conclusion that there really is, and has been from the start, one true "dogma" of Mormonism. That the Book of Mormon has to be considered real history of a fallen people (no matter how flawed in text and history). Perhaps Mormons are a little more conservative in that respect than what it looks like on the surface. At the least I have never known a faithful Mormon who didn't also believe the literalness of the Book of Mormon. The rest I have met who were members and didn't believe that had rocky relationships with the Church and faith in general. Nine times out of 10 those who lost faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon left it or became inactive.

The Keystone of Our Religion

Safety for the Soul

Mounting Evidence for the Book of Mormon

I don't want to get into an argument about the evidence for the Book of Mormon, but ignoring the importance of taking it as literal is to suck the life out of Mormonism. How a non-believer can look at it as mythological and get something out of it is fine. The same can't be said for a member who doesn't.

CD-Host said...

Well did an experiment at Mormon.org and asked if, " you have come to believe that the LDS is the restored church and Joseph Smith a prophet but don't believe in the historicity of the BoM can you join?"

Came back with an instant, "You need a testimony of the book of Mormon." One quick clarification in both directions and "that means that these people actually existed".

So it appears that's hard confirmation. You have to believe in the BoM. Missionary wasn't even interested, in a follow up which surprised me. I figured I was going to get Moroni 10:4 or something but... no, polite disinterest.

So that's a creedal statement if I ever I saw one. :) Point taken.

Katie L. said...

I just read this entire series and the comments. Wonderful, wonderful stuff that's given me LOADS to think about. I'm not as knowledgeable about the history of Christianity as everyone else who has commented seems to be, but this entire discussion intrigued me and resonated with me.

Can I speak from the perspective of a believing, committed, "liberal" Mormon? I am agnostic on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Frankly, I find the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon is historical to be one of the least interesting questions ever posed.

To my mind, and as you expressed, CD-Host, the issue of whether or not the Book of Mormon is historical has no bearing on whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet (and I believe he was). And I'm really digging some of the a-historical ideas you threw around here.

I don't know much about hermetic vs. gnostic at this point, but I reckon I've got some interesting stuff to explore now.

Thanks again.

CD-Host said...

Hi Katie, welcome to the blog. So glad you liked it! And I'm glad you related to my comments about the book of Mormon and Joseph Smith as a great prophet. It is nice to find someone with whom I have easy theological agreement.

In terms of Gnosticism and Hermeticism. I don't know if you saw the essays by Lance Owens:
Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection (long one) and Joseph Smith: America's Hermetic Prophet (shorter essay). Lance Owens is an actual Gnostic who points out the differences between Gnosticism and Hermeticism. The essays has been well received by the LDS, scholars and Gnostics.

If you want a Mormon source, Michael Homer's Freemasonry and Mormonism, nothing that Freemasonry, particularly 200 years ago is a form of Hermetic Christianity.

And in terms of mostly pre-Christian Hermiticism... this book (well actually a 3 volume mini encyclopedia) is over a century old but I can't but love it Thrice-Greatest Hermes by GRS Mead.

Katie L. said...

Thanks, CD.

I actually read the longer Lance Owens essay several years ago, and I got through about half of Quinn's book (the re-released version) before the tone started grating on me and I stopped.

This was part of what caused me to become hopefully agnostic on the idea of Mormonism as a literal restoration of primitive Christianity (which means I'm open to the possibility but it doesn't seem particularly likely), and instead see it as a symbolic restoration of deeper spiritual truths.

Your posts, though, are giving me space to rethink my position. Maybe I was too hasty. Over the past few years I've also evolved to take, as you put it, a low view of the historicity of scripture generally...so I'm okay with whatever is...but I'm excited to find there's a lot more to this than I'd ever considered.

CD-Host said...

Katie --

Glad they are helping. There is a lot I really admire in Mormonism.

As far as a low view of the historicity of scripture. Here is my $.02 on. In terms of the BoM that's hard to defend. IMHO the later Joseph Smith is far more interesting than the earlier stuff. BoM doesn't really add much about history.

In terms of the bible I'd cut it into 4 parts:

a) First 1/2 of Old Testament. Has a lot information if you read between the lines but is not accurate. This is a 2600 year old book trying to pretend to be a 3600 year old book. That is stil one of the oldest books around regardless and lots of the older material leaks out.

b) Second 1/2 of the Old Testament. Propaganda and bias but really does date to when it says. Quite a bit that is useful in terms of cultural content but little direct historical content.

c) Inter-testimonial materials (in Catholic / Anglican bibles). Most historically accurate materials.

d) New Testament -- A lot that can be learned but propaganda. Biased sources dating things back an extra generation or two with earlier material leaking.

2d7decba-572d-11e1-a32c-000bcdca4d7a said...

I am thrilled to have stumbled upon your blog – and those posts on Mormonism in particular. This post was fascinating and much of it reflects what I have seen developing in my 30 years as a member of the LDS faith.

I have just finished nearly 6 years as a bishop in a very large inner city ward and have noticed many subtle changes in procedure (for lack of a better word). There seems to be an unwritten rule (there are many in the LDS culture) that we don’t speak about spiritual things such as visions in dreams, visions while awake, visitations or experiences with the spirit world, miracles of healing with the priesthood, direct personal revelation etc… Bishops have been counseled to try to minimize the popularization of these experiences – that is, try to avoid focusing on them in talks. I am not sure of the reasons why, but I suspect it is to aid in becoming more mainstream.

Church discipline is also much different than what I remember when I was young. When I was a teenager and someone was excommunicated it was announced in the general priesthood meeting on Sunday. The reasons were not given, but we knew who to avoid. Today, doing that would be unthinkable unless you were dealing with a predator of some sort and even then it would be unusual to “out” them to the congregation.

We are a much kinder church when it comes to Church discipline. Adultery would be an automatic excommunication 20 years ago, but today… not so automatic. Fornication is handled much more gently than in the old days. It is also much easier to be a homosexual in today’s church. I had two different homosexual men in my bishopric (serving as a clerk and secretary) during my time as bishop. They just can’t be sexually active (although, one of the men I served with lived with another gay man). Even apostasy is not handled as harshly as was in the 90’s – let alone earlier in the last century. It used to be the easiest way to get excommunicated was to participate in apostasy. The Church guidelines still say a disciplinary council must be held for apostasy, but I have witnessed it not happen. Still there is a fast track to excommunication…

What can you do to get excommunicated quickly? Polygamy. Even where I live and served as a bishop, which is far from Salt Lake City, I encountered a polygamous situation. I was prepared to work with the person due to the cultural aspect of the people involved, but I was quickly informed that I was to hold a counsel as rapidly as possible and follow the handbook of instructions. The handbook rarely helped me for 99% of the things I encountered, but for polygamy it contained clear instruction – Excommunication.

I think we are a kinder and gentler Church and after reading your articles I have a much better idea of why – appealing to the masses.

CD-Host said...

Hi 2d welcome to the blog! You might want to go in and edit your name in your open-id account. :)

Anyway... In terms of church discipline and the LDS church I think the reason for that was the Norman Hancock case. Essentially in that case discipline was applied to someone who had long since quit the church, and the LDS got mildly spanked. Courts have consistently found that churches have:

a) Almost unlimited 1st amendment protection prior to someone quitting (and right after).

b) Much more limited 1st amendment protection after someone quits.

By developing a policy where the church doesn't broadcast disciplinary actions they are never in violation of state / federal law regarding the limits on church discipline for non-members. That's my $.02 as to what happened.

____

You seem to be using the word "apostasy" in a denominational specific way. What does "participating in apostasy" mean to you? How are you using it?

As far as the lack of talking about spiritual activity, .... I didn't realize they were still suppressing that sort of communication. I suspect that comes from not wanting a prophetic culture to develop inside the wards but it is hard to tell.

Thank you so much for your comment and I do hope you stick around!

CD-Host said...

Katie L (comment above) blogger profile doesn't link to her blog so for those interested Katie L's About Standing, Sitting, Lying Down.