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The Mormon Dialogue Continues…

With the author’s permission, I quote from his recent response to my earlier blog entry.

I hope I never offended or embarassed you.

You did neither, but I appreciate your concern.

It always seems like you’re reluctant to talk about the coolest aspects of your faith like you’re embarassed about them.

Reluctant? Probably. I’m not sure if “embarrassed” is the right word. The elements you raise are probably the easiest things in Mormon doctrine to yank out of their proper context, and critics of the church delight in discussing them independent of their theological moorings in order to make us look like wackos.

The reality is that the Church is far more pedestrian than the cosmology would lead you to believe, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Doctrinally, we’re pretty far removed from orthodox Protestantism, but in practice, we spend most of our time helping our members live in Christian fellowship and pay their tithing and/or stay away from illicit sex, drugs, and non-Osmond rock and roll. We wear white shirts and ties on Sunday and teach our kids to say their prayers and eat their vegetables. On the whole, we’re far, far more boring than we have any right to be.

In my own experience, those who are attracted to the Church as a result of the more bizarre-sounding doctrines discover that the Church in practice is far less exciting than the Church in theory. I daresay you could attend any Mormon church in the world for months on end without hearing a word about becoming gods or extraterrestrials or poly/henotheism. Again, I don’t say that because I’m embarrassed by these doctrines – I raise the issue because they really aren’t fundamental to the way your garden variety Mormon lives his or her faith.

But you shouldn’t be. You should be really proud of them. I know you complain that this is the crap that makes people notice your faith. But it’s not crap or weird. If that’s what brings people to your faith you should embrace it.

I think in many ways that you’re absolutely right. As a missionary in Scotland two decades ago, I spent a lot of time trying to “prove” the theological tenets of my Church using Bible texts, which means I wasted a lot of energy saying, “Hey, Christians! My church is a lot like yours! So join mine!” It didn’t occur to me for far too long that telling someone “my church is just like yours” isn’t a great incentive to get people to sign up.

Those who join the Church and stay faithful are those who embrace the idea of modern revelation and living prophets, who accept the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ, and who embrace the doctrines unique to Mormonism that so enrage the orthodox Christian world. I think we do the church a disservice when we try to soft pedal these ideas so as not to offend anybody, like we do in all the goofy TV ads we run ad nauseum. If you doubt this, try this little exercise: Next time you see a Mormon TV commercial, ask yourself this: if this thing said “Knights of Columbus” or “Catholic Charities” at the end of the message instead of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” would it change anything?

And frankly, I don’t know why whole books haven’t been written on the subject. I would buy them.

Books have been written on the subject, although, since there are so few hard facts, the books are wildly speculative, and most of them are written by Christians who are antagonistic to the ideas in question. If you want to read about these ideas from their original source materials, I’d recommend the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as well as the later sections of the Doctrine & Covenants and the books of Moses and Abraham in The Pearl of Great Price.

For me, coming from the position of Reason, it makes the most sense out of any religions I’ve studied. As a ghost hunter, I have to study them all.

I’d be interested to learn how you reconcile a doctrine of pure reason with the profession of ghost hunting.

If Earth is a school, then it stands to reason that at some point you will have to graduate. And when you graduate, you have to transition into a college or a career. Godhood as a college or a career seems to make the most sense. At least to me.

This makes some sense to me, too, although the concept of “graduating” into godhood doesn’t quite feel right. We’re already created in the image of God, so we don’t get transformed into something else when we become joint-heirs with Christ.

Although I will have to say that it would make more sense to me if reincarnation were involved.

Yeah, well… can’t help you there.

Because just as in college, you have to take many course in science, literature, history, gymnastics, etc. It would seem to me, that each life would serve as a class. In one life you would learn to be poor, in another you would learn to be rich. One you would learn how to live as a conservative, another as a liberal. One as a holy capitolist, one as an ungodly socialist. Etc.

I would counter that mortality is a course tailor-made for each participant. Each of us, with an eternal soul, would arrive here with strengths and weaknesses that would require unique challenges, but not necessarily all challenges.

It would seem to me, that living through these various experiences of mortality, or attending these “classes,” would be necessary for someone to be able to create their own world with their own beings. To me it would seem imperative to have those necessary experiences in order to create a world for your beings that would be some kind of reflection of reality.

Perhaps. Who’s to say that before we came here, we didn’t already have many of those experiences? Or that we’ll have many more after we leave here? Why limit all experiential knowledge to what we acquire in mortality?

In addition, I do think that our physical bodies are merely garments that we clothe our souls with. In my opinion, the chemical make up of human physiology is inconsequential. The true Self is beyond any chemical or biological make up, and therefore transcends any physical form. The physical form itself is meaningless IMO. To me the physical body is like a Pinto or an Edsel because it only lasts a paltry century, before it needs to be traded in the moment it no longer starts. Which given those models is fairly quickly.

Yes, but we’ve only got a starter model. The Book of Mormon refers to the resurrection as a time when “the spirit and the body shall be areunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.” (Alma 11:43)

Rather than a complete “trade-in,” we Mormons suggest an upgrade.

I do subscribe to the thought that sentience and consiousness is the image of God, not the physical form itself. I think that if we become gods, or demi gods, that we are assigned a specific world to create. Just like students are handed out assignments. Graduating from Earth is like a High School Diploma, but you still have to get your Ph.D through Godhood.

That as gods we have to create a world with whatever chemical compounds are availabe on that world, that we can’t pick and choose. Or that we have to create a world with assigned chemical compunds. But what ever the case, we are assigned. It would be the only way to challenge a being that is a god, to have that god be able to learn and develop itself to whatever stage is next. Therefore IMO, and in the immortal words of Rumsfeld, we have to create with what we have at hand, not with what we wish we had.

I think my problem with this – and with most people who extract the doctrine of deification from its original context – is that it focuses on what we do instead of who we are, or who we should be. God wants us to become like him, and, in turn, he will give us all that he has. Focusing on the stuff he has instead of who he is misses the mark, I think.

How’s that for a revelation?

It’s a good start. I’m sure two nice young men on bicycles would be happy to come over to your house and tell you more.

Sweet Baby James
Fred, Rudy, and a Block of Cheese

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