Are Conservative Members Trying to Destroy Mormonism?

At the same time the LDS Church leadership is taking mini-steps toward understanding the developments in science, along come the conservatives and biblical literalists, this time in the form of Dave Banack at T&S (12 Mar 2013).  He argues that making theological accommodations to conservative Christians groups is important.

The subject of Dave’s blog entry at T&S is Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet:

  • As man is, God once was:
  • As God now is, man may become.

He argues that the couplet is not LDS Church doctrine and should be deemphasized (or perhaps chucked).  In order to do this, he chucks the King Follett Discourse (we don’t know what Joseph Smith really said), the teachings of Brigham Young (he is unreliable on doctrinal issues), and Lorenzo Snow’s personal beliefs.  According to Dave, the belief that God was once a man, and that man may become as God:

  • contradicts LDS scripture
  • was never canonized
  • has never been affirmed by any modern LDS leader
  • damages the Church

While I don’t buy the first three (for reasons that are made by commentors on T&S), it’s the last reason that I find offensive.  According to Dave:

the Couplet is often Exhibit 1 in a Christian argument that LDS doctrine is outside the bounds of Christian belief.  Those are not “anti-Mormon” arguments–they are made by reasonable Christians with legitimate questions about why Mormons would apparently accept and affirm such questionable and problematic doctrine.

So, to accommodate our critics on the Christian right, Mormonism should trash one its most beautiful beliefs?  To back up his claim, Dave quotes Stephen Robinson (from the book How Wide the Divide?), an instructor at BYU.  This is the same professor who wrote–in the same book–“there is not a single verse in the Bible that Latter-day Saints do not accept,” and “We take the scriptures to be literally true, and we hold symbolic, figurative or allegorical interpretations to a minimum . . .”

Mormons, and particularly Mormon scientists, are increasingly understanding that much of the OT is “symbolic, figurative or allegorical.”  Thus, I don’t feel comfortable with Stephen defining my beliefs, or the beliefs of the Church in general.

But the bigger issue is the doctrine of Eternal Progression (or eternal evolution if you prefer).  If life makes any sense at all, I believe it must involve eternal personal development, and that we can take the knowledge that we gain in this life into the next.  And I’m not just talking about religious or theological knowledge. 

For me, Eternal Progression applies to everybody. including God.  When we talk about the omni’s, and God being perfect, it relates to his knowledge and his power in relation to ours.  For example, by comparison to us, he is omni everything.  But only in a relative sense.  Snow’s couplet is the essense of my religious belief, such as it is.

When I die, if there is an afterlife, I certainly hope there is Eternal Progression and that there are  important things to do and accomplish.  I don’t want to sing in the Tabernacle Choir for the eternities; I have a lousy voice and don’t enjoy singing.

Dave is concerned about being called a polytheist.  I’m not!

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16 Responses to Are Conservative Members Trying to Destroy Mormonism?

  1. Lincoln Cannon says:

    Yes, Roger! Thanks for responding to that article.

  2. Susan says:

    Where to begin. Roger, you bring up a lot of valid points. However, I have to disagree with the overall gist of your article and interpretation of Eternal Progression (or Eternal Evolution) and the way in which you portray its role. I totally believe that there is an eternity when we live this thing we call life. I HAVE to believe it. My soul and spirit depend on the fact that my parents and one brother have already gone to the other side. I live with the hope that one day I will see them again. It has sustained me through times when I truly miss them and wonder where they are, what they are doing. However, I do not feel any of us are in a position to “make the call” about where we will be and what we will be doing in the next life. And, most importantly, why do any of us expect that we will become a “God” in the next life? As a Polytheist, you have many deity choices, right? If you truly grasp Mormonism, wouldn’t you be a henotheist? According to Mormon doctrine, don’t you have to be at the top of the celestial kindgom, have the blessings of the temple/endowment, pay a full tithing, obey the Word of Wisdom, read your scriptures, etc., etc.? I don’t understand how you can grasp “one of Mormonisms most beautiful beliefs” yet let others slide. If we are true believers in Mormonism and feel that it will ultimately guide us towards Eternal Progression to obtain a Godlike status, do any of us have the luxury of being a “cafeteria Mormon”, i.e., pick and choose? Something as critical as perfection and omniism seems to be more relevant and puts you into an entirely different realm. To only believe that part of Mormonism because it will give you the status of God seems a bit egotistical. And I don’t believe that we’ll all just be walking around in the next life polishing our harps and singing songs. There will be a lot of progression and learning experiences that will make total sense.

    • Lincoln Cannon says:

      Hi Susan. A few thoughts came to mind while reading your post:

      First, although you seem skeptical, Mormon scripture and authorities have clearly and repeatedly taught that we can and should become God (see http://community.transfigurism.org/quotes/mormon-authorities-on-theosis and http://community.transfigurism.org/quotes/theosis).

      Second, it sounds like you may consider Celestial glory to be the end of progression, but Mormon scripture suggests that there are higher glories than the Celestial (see http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/130.9-11?lang=eng#8).

      Third, because Mormon scripture and authorities are not always consistent, all Mormons are cafeteria Mormons to some extent, even if some don’t recognize it.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        I’m not sure that my personal belief structure allows me capitalize the word God in the same way you do. For me, there is only one capital-letter “G” God, the rest are gods. They are gods (in knowledge, power, compassion) in relation to humans, but not “the” God. I’m not sure I know or care what these gods will be capable of doing. I just hope it involves some type of personal growth. But to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I believe in an afterlife.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Susan,
      1. I don’t see your desire to be reunited with your family after death and eternal progression (of if you prefer deification) as being mutually exclusive. My question would be, in the afterlife, once you are reunited with your family, then what?
      2. When you talk about eternal progression, you make it sound like a future goal. To me, it is an ongoing and eternal process. According to Mormonism, one of the reasons we are here on earth is to progress (and I’m not just talking about memorizing scripture).
      3. In a comment made after his blog entry at T&S, Dave makes the word polytheist seem purjorative. To me it is not. You use the work henotheist. That word doesn’t work for me, but the word monolatrist does. With the latter, you worship one God, while believing there are others.
      4. As one commenter on T&S said, once you agree to a godhead of the Father, Mother, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, what’s the problem with a few more?
      5. Yes, I’m a cafeteria Mormon. All Mormons are cafeteria Mormon. Dave at T&S rejects Snow’s couplet. I don’t necessarily reject some of the things you list, but I certainly don’t understand them (eg. temple work).
      6. Deification does sound a bit egotistical, but I don’t think that eternal progression does.

    • stenar says:

      Susan, Mormonism is definitely not henotheistic. Throughout the scriptures people are reprimanded by god to not worship false gods (not other gods). Also, over and over again, one is told that the LDS faith is the only true church.
      You don’t seem to grasp Mormonism, because the central tenet of the entire religion is that you can become a god some day. People on earth will only ever worship the god over this planet. When one becomes a god, one creates their own planet, has spirit children of one’s own, sends them down to experience having a body, and they are to worship only the god their father who created their planet.

  3. Lincoln Cannon says:

    Roger, the God in which I trust is or at least should be manifest in bodies, minds, relations and worlds, radically flourishing in compassion and creation. You and I are part of that, but of course neither of us ever will be or should be the whole of that. In any case, I use “God” to describe both the whole and the parts, reflecting the integration I understand them to have.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Lincoln, so for you, God is the aggregate or some amalgam (all?) of humanity and deity? So you wouldn’t consider yourself a polytheist or monolatrist? But to get where you are. you have a cosmic definition of God? How does this jive with the Mormon belief of God having a physical body? So when it comes to the godhead, you’re a trinitarian? Roger

      • Lincoln Cannon says:

        I consider myself something of a panentheist, and I’m not sure how anyone can embrace the broad and diverse descriptions of God in Mormon scripture without taking on a perspective along these lines. I do understand God to be embodied and material. I also understand God to be in and through all things, visible to us when we look at the heavens, even if we don’t understand. Individuality and interconnectedness are both important to my faith.

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  5. stenar says:

    What you’re describing, Lincoln, sounds more like pantheism than panentheism.

  6. rogerdhansen says:

    Lincoln, this is all getting very interesting. I’ve recently become interested in Process Theology, in a superficial sort of way. While I was at Claremont for your conference, I spent some time with Richard Livingston, a Mormon graduate student studying Process Theology. He indicated that Mormons should be a little leery of putting themself in the Process Theology camp because the two groups have quite different concepts of God.

    When I looked up the word panentheist on wikipedia, one group that seemed to espouse panentheism are process theologians. So are you overtly trying to bring Mormon theology (what there is of it) closer to the Process Theology camp?

    I never did really understand the concept of an embodied God. But I can grasp the concept of us–in the afterlife–maintaining our identity and some outward manifestation of our individuality. So I might not disagree with you. But I consider myself more of a monolatrist.

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