Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reflections of a Mormon Feminist: the role of women and men in and out of the church

God's anti-discrimination Title VII: "For none of these iniquities come of the Lord... and he ainviteth them ball to ccome unto him and partake of his goodness; and he ddenieth none that come unto him, black and white, ebond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the fheathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."  (circa 550 B.C.)

Title VII specifically prohibits discrimination in the categories of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Amendment 13 prohibits slavery.

God's analog seems to specifically prohibit discrimination in the categories of color, slave/non-slave, sex, and a form of national origin or perhaps religion (Jew and Gentile).  I'm not really sure what category is implicated by the reference to the heathen (uneducated?  not religiously trained?).

Good going for America for the apparent anti-discrimination harmony with God's revealed word. 

By the way, just for the record, I trust it is presumed on my blog generally that I am an active, worthy member of the LDS church loyal to its teachings and leadership.  Gordon B. Hinckley said in an April 2003 talk entitled "Loyalty" that "This is His work. He established it. He has revealed its doctrine. He has outlined its practices. He created its government. It is His work and His kingdom, and He has said, "They who are not for me are against me" (2 Nephi 10:16)... Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."  I know the Church is true, and I am loyal to it and intend to follow the counsel of its leader. 

Now, I'm going to hone in on the gender discrimination and examine it using the comparison to the issue of racial discrimination as evidenced in the "separate but equal" (see Plessy) and "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" (see Brown v. Board of Education) language. No doubt brighter authors than I have done this very exegesis before.  I feel more uneducated on this subject cluster than on other recent posts.  Notwithstanding, here goes:

Plessy: Family Proclamation :: Brown: Adam and Eve story.  Allow me to explain. 

Much has been made of the "separate but equal" roles of men and women in the church.  The divine role of women and the doctrine of motherhood is abundantly taught.  (See for more detail LDS Family Ideals versus the Equality of Women: Navigating the Changes Since 1957 2008).  The Family Proclamation teaches:

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."  (separate responsibilities but equal partners- separate but equal, Plessy's language)

This paragraph expounds separate responsibilities for fathers and mothers, though it doesn't go as far as to say in what ways the two genders' natures differ (that they differ is implied by "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.").  Because I want to get to other points, I will not exhaustively research authoritative statements which support a conclusion that, for instance, the church teaches that men are built better for providing or that women are built better for nurturing children than the opposite gender.  Although I would point out that although women and men might complement each other well generally, the general man and the general women never marry- instead, there is always a specific man and a specific woman, each with a unique attribute profile.  If the father is more nurturing than the mother, or the woman more capable and inclined to protect or provide than the man, then the couple has a tougher job complying with the articulated roles than a more stereotypical couple.  If one's profile of characteristics is largely unchosen, this result seems hard and unfair- with the seeming response of "tough luck."

Anyway, back to my intended points.  The Adam and Eve story is one of the ideal marriage and family, and provides an archetype to follow.  It seems that Adam and Eve's approach wouldn't fit in very well under the modern church's depiction of gender roles.  That could be okay - the modern church is for the modern world, and Adam and Eve were in a different world, a new world, where they had the opportunity of establishing the culture rather than responding to it.  However, the juxtaposition might shed some light on the doctrine of gender roles.  I think it paints more of a picture of equality than the "separate but equal" conception extant today. (Though I don't here, I might also juxtapose an interesting third option chronologically nestled between the First Family and the Modern Family, namely the Polygynous Family, which like the other two, seems to have garnered at least occasional endorsement by God).

Back to the First Family.  Adam and Eve did everything together.  In Moses 5, it seems there wasn't a division of labor resulting from different innate, gender-specific tendencies.

Did just Adam do the providing?  No, they worked together: "Adam began to till the earth, and to have adominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his bbrow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did clabor with him.

Did Adam take the lead as voice in their prayers, receive commandments, and pass them along to his wife?  No- they prayed and worshiped and received revelation together.  Notice the "they's": "And Adam and Eve, his wife, acalled upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of bEden, speaking unto them... And he gave unto them commandments, that they should aworship the Lord their God, and should offer the bfirstlings of their cflocks, for an offering unto the Lord."

Did Eve do the predominant share of nurturing?  Here the answer is less clear, though again the partnership is referenced as the teaching entity: " And Adam and aEve blessed the name of God, and they made all things bknown unto their sons and their daughters." I think there is no doubt that women have a nurturing nature- but I'm not convinced that men lack this ability.

Brizendine, The Male Brain, 2010: "The stereotype of the stoic, unemotional male is again contradicted by research showing that the daddy brain and mature male brain are profoundly devoted and nurturing" (132).

I also don't think it is clear that men lack the level of nurturing that women exhibit, though men may nurture differently than women.  I think men often nurture in similar ways as well, though- e.g. see the male-only priesthood qualities from D y C 121 that sound very feminine and nurturing, such as "cpersuasion, by dlong-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned 42 By akindness, and pure bknowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the csoul without dhypocrisy, and without eguile-  43 aReproving betimes with bsharpness, when cmoved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of dlove toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy."  Thus, I think men are equally qualified to teach and nurture children.  At the least I think they could unlock the ability if socialized to do so.

I also see little reason on a "nature" argument why women are not cut out to be providers.  Women are strong and smart and can do about anything with some training (as can men generally as well).  Eve didn't seem to balk at earth tilling.  Indeed, history shows that women can work.

One ill of promoting a Modern Family over a First Family model is that some of those "misfits" (e.g. 1: *Jessica Stott, a young and high-accomplishing Ph.D. professor in the MPA program.  Her husband is content to be a stay-at-home dad and his wife the breadwinner.  Or 2: *Sarah Stewart, a high-accomplishing, full time MPA student, mother of four friend of mine) receive condemnation, both direct and indirect, within the church.  Who can blame them, when the Family Proclamates: " By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."  Both couple examples I illustrated are misfits.  In the First Family model, however, such a couple is not out of line, as long as the couple somehow provides and the couple somehow nurtures.  The First Family model treats the couple as a unit, rather than an association of a father and a mother to whom different duties independently attach.  The First Family approach seems to treat the couple as "one flesh" better than the Modern Family framework.

Personal preference, I like the First Family approach more than the Modern Family approach.  It seems to be a better policy in an ideal and a practical world because men and women really are equal, and avoiding role differentiation allows the couple greater flexibility in fulfilling the parenting and other responsibilities incumbent on them as a couple.  I think in a First Family, if there is any failure in the performance of parenting duties, then each is held individually responsible for the breach, as each individual is accountable for the entire parental performance.  In addition to apportioning responsibility, I see great benefit in a tighter peer/equality relationship.  As the Brown decision says, separate is inherently unequal.  This justification is bounded, though- for there are some physical differences at least between the average man and average woman (see e.g. Brizendine's The Female Brain and The Male Brain).  As mentioned above, though - because unique individuals marry rather than averages, less discriminating of roles seems a propos (instead, assign roles to the couple rather than to individuals, which further incentivizes unity).  Men and women "are alike" - at least to God. 

God unifies.  The at-onement is all about at-one-ing us with God and each other.  The baptism covenant, though between an individual and God, binds her to her fellows ("bear one another's burdens).  Satan, on the other hand, divides and separates.  He tries to separate us from God.  Division seems to be an indicator of the Devil's work.  He tries to separate and divide families.  He tries to prevent and disrupt the unity of marriage.  He approached Adam and Eve separately so that the fall was staggered rather than unified.  Nibley speaks of this wedging and decries both matriarchy and patriarchy.  The relevance of this distinction is that it seems the First Family is more "together" than the divided roles expounded in the Modern Family: vir et uxor consentur in lege una persona- "a husband and wife are regarded in law as one person."  Counterargument- "Think not that I am come to send apeace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." (Interestingly, not husband against wife).

Jesus and Joseph Smith were both progressive feminists for their time.  I wish I had some substantiating examples close at hand. 

Though Jesus and Elohim exemplify charity for us, charity itself is female rather than male: Moroni 7:45 "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own..."

Proverbs 2 and 3 refer to wisdom and understanding as female: "So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;  3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;  4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures..."

Dialogue with my brother:
Another good example is women's rights. In the church women don't have any rights. Counterexamples- the right to pray, the right to read scriptures, the right to believe as they choose, all civilly-guaranteed rights, and the right to repent.  If you argue that they only have these rights through men (e.g. scriptures because they were revealed through a man or they have the right to pray because a male told them how), you might similarly argue that any rights men have come through women because none are born except to a woman.  My point is that you might have a solid claim here, but it's not yet well supported or sufficiently narrow.  Any rights they have come through a man. This is understandable as it was the way society was run in the not too distant past. I agree generally.  Many religions, including ours, have their roots in a man-centric milieu (e.g. 19th amendment wasn't until 1920).  Women couldn't own property, they couldn't vote, and they were basically add-ons to their husbands. If you lived in a society like this today you would be labeled a patriarchial society. This is how the church still operates. Women are barred from holding the power of god, counterexample 1: officiating women in the temple. counterexample 2: any women exercising faith in the magnifying of her calling.  they're barred from taking part in any leadership role that doesn't involve other women or children, I'm struggling to conceive of counterexamples here- e.g. a Sunday School secretary isn't a classic leadership role, and a mother role, though a leadership position, is mostly relevant to children, i.e. her role diminishes even in a family of only sons as the males become adults- so good point as far as I can tell. they're even technically barred from heaven if they don't have a man to let them in (see temple ritual). True, although that bar applies equally to men, i.e. neither men nor women can attain the highest degree of exaltation but for sealing to an opposite-gender spouse. Does this make sense in a modern context? Not really. I agree in that the restrictions do seem deleteriously and unnecessarily limiting.  Those restrictions may not exist forever- as others, the policy might feasibly change in the future (presuming the policy is either A) merely a practice like blacks and the priesthood or B) malum prohibitum only, like polygamy). I observed an all-female clergy in an episcopal church a month ago and they seemed competent for the pastoral role.  Given the opportunity, I see few skills women couldn't develop that are relevant to current male-only roles in the church.  Also, since growth and progress are important aims for men and women, it makes a lot of sense to open up traditionally male-only leadership roles to women (except for the presumed fact of current contrary revelation).  Difficult as some church leadership roles such as bishop are, they offer unparalleled outcomes for those who fulfill such roles (examples include understanding principles and refining skills of change, government, judgment, gentleness, love, stewardship, accountability, and leadership more generally).  There is little reason to conclude that women, though they might fulfill these roles differently, would do a worse job than men.  Nor does it seem likely that men have more need than women for the lessons gained from fulfilling these roles outside contrived gender distinctions. 

I'd like to read a book on female and male roles in the LDS church.  I don't know enough about these issues.  I'd also to to read a book analyzing chronologically LDS statements on contraception.
> The Place of Mormon Women: Perceptions, Prozac, Polygamy, Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Peace
> ""it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by." - First Presidency statement (David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Office of the First Presidency, April 15, 1969
>  "As to sex in marriage, the necessary treatise on that for Latter-day Saints can be written in two sentences: Remember the prime purpose of sex desire is to beget children. Sex gratification must be had at that hazard."
(J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report 1949, Oct: pp. 194-95)

Excerpt from my Sunstone Symposium post, in the Mormon Women's Forum section:
If one were to go about trying to establish gender equality in the church, presuming that priesthood exclusivity tips the scales in favor of men, two primary strategies would be likely to succeed:
1) demean men in relationship to women, such that priesthood acquisition then brings the two into balance
2) exalt women in relationship to men
I have observed both in abundance.  Evidence:
Strategy 1) When I was in the MTC, I remember asking our middle-aged branch president why the idea persists that women are naturally better/more spiritual than men, noting how frequently I hear that idea expressed (the idea bothered me at the time).  He told me "simply because it's true."  Also, the persistent theme in the church that men are most frequently the ones who cheat on or leave spouses, abuse and neglect their children, etc., shows that they must be the worse of the two sexes.  Further, polygamy shows that men are naturally worse since there are so many more righteous women than there are men: just take a look at current active women>men ratio in the church. 
Strategy 2) I have heard from LDS pulpits the idea that women, since they were created last, are God's "crowning creation," implying their superiority to men.  Also, women have the supernal role mother and wife, and are superior nurturers by nature. 

These relative to each other, men- denigrating and women-exalting themes are ill-founded and misleading if they aren't true.
-I would counter some of the pieces above by noting that though women on average are perhaps more emotionally expressive and use their MNS more frequently, this fact even if verified does not necessarily support a conclusion that women are more spiritual, since emotion is not equivalent to the Spirit.  To the contrary, the presumption that revelation reception rates for the two genders are very similar is a reasonable one. 
- I would note that if women were created last, men were created first, and Jesus was both male and the Firstborn.  If you're going to make a women>men claim on the basis of sequential creation, it seems that God makes His best creation first, so the crowning creation argument is at the least neutralized if not superseded.
- I would point out that focusing on nurturing and motherhood when addressing gender equality excludes the value of single and/or career-focused women.  Unless that focus is accompanied by a similar focus on providing/protecting/presiding and fatherhood for men which would also exclude childless and/or career-focused men, then the nurture focus leads to further inequality. 
- Since when are the roles of mother and wife more significant than the roles of father and husband?  Thus, focusing on the mother/wife role doesn't boost women relative to men absent a conclusion that mother>father and/or wife>husband.  As to the nurturing argument, I would argue that men nurture differently than women on average, but not necessarily worse or less.  Also, is nurturing more important than the male-associated roles of providing, protecting, and presiding, all identified in the Family Proclamation?  One must necessarily conclude as much to exalt women in relation to men on a nurture basis.

- See more of my detailed arguments in my Mormon feminist post.   Basically the conclusion is that, at the margin, men and women are equal up until 1) male-only priesthood, 2) male-oriented scriptural focus, 3) polygamy, and 4) patriarchal order tip the scales in favor of men.  
There are female characterizations of deity or God's attributes in several places in the scriptures.  Two examples that come to mind: A hen gathering her chickens (3 Nephi 10), and charity as a her (Moroni 7).

I would predict that church practices and principles regarding females have changed over time.  Examples will likely include working outside the home; praying, speaking, voting/sustaining, and partaking of the sacrament at church; and becoming very educated. 

I think if there are incompletenesses or imperfections in the church, but the Lord still is well pleased with it and allows it to exercise His authorized priesthood and seals ordinances performed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, I am encouraged.  If God will grant that level of acceptance of an incomplete or imperfect church, then perhaps He will grant me a high level of acceptance- because I am all sorts of incomplete and imperfect.

Caveat: My blog generally is a way to "try on" ideas to see how they feel, rather than an authoritative, certain, or permanent stance I assert. Simplex commendatio non obligat - "A simple recommendation does not bind." This is especially true of this post.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Enhancement Ethics: Gattaca and the New Kids on the Block

Genetically superior humans constitute a separate class from "natural" people in the movie Gattaca. The two classes are called "Valid" and "In-Valid," and the movie depicts an against-all-odds victory by an In-Valid, illustrating the subtitle: "there is no gene for the human spirit."  Below I make a case advocating an embrace of human enhancement and comparable technologies.

First, I list the technologies/enhancements that I think will be forthcoming.  Remember, if you don't build it, biopunks will.  :)  I call these forthcoming realities "New Kids on the Block:"

Bonobobob (1/2 human, 1/2 bonobo chimp)
Sheepgoats (part sheep part goat)
Transgenic mammals (only plants thus far express genes that are virally inserted, sometimes using genetic material from other kingdoms)
Transgenic rDNA people (e.g. a diabetic that can synthesize his own insulin instead of relying on bacterial cultures to produce it for him)
Eliminating diabetes and and cystic fibrosis ("follow smallpox's lead, oh diseases- we the people disfellowship, banish, and otherwise eradicate you!")
Gay pill (some surgery or intervention you can take to reverse your sexual orientation)
Senescence pill (some surgery or intervention you can take to reverse or slow aging)
Woolly Mammoths in the zoo (their genome has been genotyped; your grandkids will likely experience this under current trends)
Neanderthal bringbacks (also genotyped; cloning technologies + current ability to manufacture DNA from scratch in the lab = only a matter of time)
Further extinct species reinstatement (it's already happened once with the Pyrenean Ibex)
All sorts of transhumans 
- "the contemporary meaning is a product of the 1980s when futurists in the United States began to organize what has since grown into the transhumanist movement. Transhumanist thinkers predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman".[1]")
- "the "movement that epitomizes the most daring, courageous, imaginative, and idealistic aspirations of humanity".[5]" 
- one of the deepest fienings of man is encapsulated by the "No Fear" t-shirt motto: "know your limits, then break 'em!" 
- suspended animation
- radical lifespan extension
- space colonization
- boundless energy and ambition
- bionic implants
- artificial intelligence/human combos
- expanded consciousness
- supersoldiers
- reduced or eliminated need for sleep (Brigham Young- "I thirst no more, I want to sleep no more, I hunger no more, I tire no more, I run, I walk, I labor, I go, I come, I do this, I do that, whatever is required of me, nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor...- see footnote 6 below)
- radically reduced travel time (distance no longer a significant obstacle)

Second, I argue for ethically permitting (at the least) and advocating (at the most) the development of the New Kids on the Block and their neighbors.

Supporting Argument A
We already justify dozens of human enhancements (or human enhancement-like aids- see source 1 and source 2 below for more on the debate about the existence of a distinction between enhancements and non-enhancements).
- educating children, braces, glasses, medical care, reading books, iphones, etc.
- institution-based security, vaccines, democracy, rule of law, food storage

Other enhancements are merely different types or degrees within a bounded region on the same normative spectrum- thus blocking some enhancements but not others merely on a basis of timing of development (i.e. the class of enhancements "not yet developed" v. those that have already been) seems facially indefensible.

Supporting Argument B
Mankind has a destiny, as individuals do, to progress.  However, man comes into the world incredibly stupid, ignorant, and vulnerable to harm and death.  Thus, the best available means to advance humanity is to permit an environment that is likely to continually challenge human limits.

Permitting transhumanist endeavors is an expression of humility.  Natural selection applies, not just to genes, but to culture, law, public health, economics, and government.  250 years ago, compared to today, America was largely racist, subject to tyranny, impoverished, exhibited high infant mortality, etc.  The American Experiment resulted in greater equality and rule of law, lower infant mortality, improved living standards, information technology advancement, widespread enjoyment of constitutional liberties, etc.  Therefore, we must permit experiments as long as projected costs don't clearly outweigh projected benefits.  Uncertainty should result in permitting experiment because we're not smart enough now to know that the status quo is better than what the future will hold.  (Hence, my claim that permitting transhumanist endeavors is an expression of humility).  A 1760 panel arrogating a moratorium on experimenting with public health, engineering, agriculture, government system, and law would have frozen the status quo, thereby precluding the valuable advancements that have occurred since that time.  Is there some reason to conclude that our present day is not as primitive from the perspective of a 2260 historian as 1760 seems to us now?  The year 2260, 250 years from now, is the blink of an eye historically- yet the interim is pregnant with the promise of continuing to exceed historic human limitations.  

The chief characteristic of saints is that they make a heaven out of whatever circumstance they're in- be it making the desert blossom as a rose or hell itself:  "I see no faults in the Church, and therefore let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it." - Joseph Smith.  Plus, the LDS faith buys into theosis pretty heavily.   

Another religious iteration of this argument/principle was elucidated in a story shared during General Conference in April of '10.  Brigham Young was about to administer to the sick, but asked if the person had administered any remedies yet.  Brigham taught that we should apply remedies where available first, and that God will make up for the lack of the technology if that's your circumstance.  One could argue that resurrection and immortality are no longer as far from our grasp as they have been in the past.  We still rely on God for forgiveness and can't save ourselves spiritually, but resurrection/restoring the dead to life and creating perpetual bodies (immortality) are now cognizable.  Plus, our eventual destiny anyway is to become post-human, i.e. like God, who has a vastly superior body (invulnerable to violence, incredibly smart, strong, capable, beautiful, immortal, etc.).  Certainly God can do some of the heavy lifting for us- but more often He encourages and helps us develop self-reliance where feasible.  Transhumanist endeavors might prove to be appropriate self-reliance efforts.

Supporting Argument C
Many knee-jerk counterarguments are based on "I take umbrage merely because it's new or different," a playing God, or a wrong because-unnatural fallacy, none of which advance the counter's side (which is that it's ethically impermissible to pursue these enhancements and technologies).  See my post for why these counterarguments don't advance the ball for the opposition.

Supporting Argument D
A lot of these enhancements' panache captures the imagination.  They're just cool!

Counterargument E
Further development of the genetic and enhancement technologies listed above may lead to a technocracy, which like most discriminating systems, has many negative consequences, some of which may prove egregiously right-infringing.  Omnis innovatio plus novitate perturbat quam utilitate prodeat - "every innovation disturbs more by its novelty than it benefits by its utility."  There are tons of risks inherent in pursuing transhumanist objectives, e.g.

Adding all of these arguments together, I conclude that the development of the New Kids on the Block and their neighbors is at least ethically permissible. 

For more:

1.  Source 1- Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement, Nick Bostrom & Rebecca Roache (2007)
[Forthcoming in New Waves in Applied Ethics, ed. Jesper Ryberg (Palgrave Macmillan)]

2.  Source 2- Untangling the Debate: The Ethics of Human Enhancement, Patrick Lin & Fritz Allhoff [Nanoethics (2008) 2:251–264]

3.  More on the ethics of human genetic engineering: Simmons, D. (2008) Genetic inequality: Human genetic engineering. Nature Education

4.  Interesting predictions of an author in 1923: "geneticist J.B.S. Haldane's 1923 essay Daedalus: Science and the Future, which predicted that great benefits would come from applications of advanced sciences to human biology—and that every such advance would first appear to someone as blasphemy or perversion, "indecent and unnatural"."

5.  Listen to "New Way to be Human" - a song by switchfoot
Everday it's the same thing
Another trend has begun
Hey kids, this might be the one

It's a race to be noticed
And it's leaving us numb
Hey kids, we can't be the ones

With all of our fashion
We're still incomplete
The God of redemption
Could break our routine

There's a new way to be human
It's nothing we've ever been
There's a new way to be human
New way to be human

And where is our inspiration?
When all the heroes are are gone
Hey kids, could we be the ones?

'Cause nobody's famous
And nobody's fine
We all need forgiveness
We're longing inside

There's a new way to be human
It's nothing we've ever been
There's a new way to be human
It's spreading under my skin
There's a new way to be human
Where divinity blends
With a new way to be human
New way to be human

You're throwing your love across
my impossible space
You've created me
Take me out of me into...

A new way to be human
To a new way to be human

You're a new way to be human
Where my humanity bends
To a new way to be human
Redemption begins

You're a new way to be human
You're the only way to be human

-“All men know that they must die. And it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and of death, and the designs and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our sufferings here, and our departure hence. What is the object of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more? It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night, for the world is ignorant in reference to their true condition and relation. If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:50).
-“We shall turn round and look upon [the valley of death] and think, when we have crossed it, why this is the greatest advantage of my whole existence, for I have passed from a state of sorrow, grief, mourning, woe, misery, pain, anguish and disappointment into a state of existence, where I can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body. My spirit is set free, I thirst no more, I want to sleep no more, I hunger no more, I tire no more, I run, I walk, I labor, I go, I come, I do this, I do that, whatever is required of me, nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor, and I enjoy the presence of my heavenly Father” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 17:142).

7.  There's a well-developed mormon transhumanist association out there, complete with a Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation (also here).  Some cool vids are available too (check 'em out, they're cool!).

8. Reaching by Carolyn Arends
'Cause the more we learn the more we know

We don't know anything

But still it seems a tragic fate
Living with this quiet ache
The constant strain for what remains
Just out of reach

We are reaching for the future
We are reaching for the past
And no matter what we have we reach for more
We are desperate to discover
What is just beyond our grasp
But maybe that's what Heaven is for

There are times I can't forget
Dressed up in my Sunday best
Trying not to squirm and to maybe learn
A bit of what the preacher preached

And later lying in the dark
I felt a stirring in my heart
And though I longed to see what could not be seen
I still believed

I guess, I shouldn't think it odd
Until we see the face of God
The yearning deep within us tells us
There's more to come

So when we taste of the divine
It leaves us hungry every time
For one more taste of what awaits
When Heaven's Gates are reached

We are reaching for the future
We are reaching for the past
And no matter what we have, we reach for more
We are desperate to discover
What is just beyond our grasp
But maybe that's what Heaven is for
I believe that's what Heaven is for

There's a time I can recall
Four years old and three feet tall
Trying to touch the stars and the cookie jar
And both were out of reach
9.  I don't know where else on my blog to put these two somewhat related questions:

- If the prophecy of the last days paints a picture of increasing wickedness, moral degradation, and political erosion, doesn't it become somewhat heretical to seek significant and sustainable political, environmental, and social improvements, as their accomplishment would necessarily negate the fulfillment of the prophecy?

- How much of the variability in personality is heritable?  Out of the remaining percentage attributable to environment, how much of the variability is attributable to epigenetic (intraorganismal environment), psychological, and environmental/nurturing factors?  I would imagine the remaining variability would be attributable to our spirit identities.  I wonder how much impact my ancient, pre-mortal-existing spirit has on my consciousness and personality (as compared to my biological identity).

Other cool blogs by Mormon 20-something's:
Connor's Conundrums about politics, religion, philosophy, etc. - contrasting philosophy with revealed truth, by Jeff Thayne and Nathan Richardson
and a 30-something's: Lincoln Cannon: syncretizing religion, science, spirituality and technology

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Diversity Problem: Restoration, Religion, and the Epistemology of Revelation

Person A: "God revealed to me that religion X is the only religion that He is well pleased with."
Person B: "God revealed to me that religion Y is the only religion that He is well pleased with."

Thus, it seems likely that the veracity of revelation received/reported by persons A, B, or both is flawed.  Duo non possunt in dolido unam rem possidere "two cannot possess one thing each in entirety."  It would be inconsistent for God to affirm two mutually exclusive claims.  ("In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time." - Abraham Lincoln)  This is how I would summarize the "diversity problem" in religion.  (see also religious pluralism, exclusivisminclusivism, and the same sex marriage study I referenced in my post about homosexuality).  Especially look at my homosexuality post to see reasons for epistemic humility on religious matters (and page 43 of Bradshaw's paper: "I would like to suggest that it is appropriate for members of the Church to withhold judgement about the implications of some religious principles in humble recognition of the uncertainty that accompanies our relative ignorance").

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on religious diversity, I quote:

"Individuals who apparently have access to the same information and are equally interested in the truth affirm incompatible perspectives on, for instance, significant social, political, and economic issues. Such diversity of opinion, though, is nowhere more evident than in the area of religious thought. On almost every religious issue, honest, knowledgeable people hold significantly diverse, often incompatible beliefs."  It seems that only four explanations are tenable: 1) all the people are wrong, 2) one of the groups is right and the remainder are wrong, 3) all the people are right (religious relativism) or 4) there is no right or wrong and thus all the people are neither right nor wrong.  Below I try to determine which of these four explanations is most tenable.  

3 seems weak because contradictory affirmations can't both be simultaneously true (a classic syllogistic fallacy).  1, 2, and 4 are all consistent with a realist theory (there is a truth to the matter).  Which of these three is most likely?  (To use terms common in the literature, 1 is religious non-exclusivism, 2 religious exclusivism, and 4 religious pluralism.)  Let's see.

(P.S. epistemology answers the question of "How can I come to possess knowledge about the world?")

The LDS church stereotypically maintains #2 (religious exclusivist) stance in that it claims to be the "only true and living church upon the face of the earth which with I, the Lord am well pleased, speaking to the church collectively and not individually."  What is testimony?  "A testimony is what we know to be true in our minds and in our hearts by the witness of the Holy Ghost;" (see also "the formula for a "proper" testimony includes a personal witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ or the truthfulness of the Church, Joseph Smith or of the Book of Mormon").  Proper testimony centers around the First Vision ("I must join none of them, for they were all awrong... all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those bprofessors were all ccorrupt;), the exclusive possession of authority to act in God's name, the transferral of exclusive priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and his successors, and their current possession by the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency today.   As predicted, the LDS church as an exclusivist faith "rather tend[s] to proselytize followers of other religions, than seek an open-ended dialogue with them."  

The types of truth claims made by the LDS church are not unique.  "The Prophet is God's inspired, authorized mouthpiece with priesthood traced to Christ."  Some Catholics: "The Pope is God's inspired, authorized mouthpiece with priesthood traced to Christ."  

Or, "The Book of Mormon is so internally consistent, detailed, and elegant.  No man could have written it unaided in so short a time.  No imitator could write even a chapter."  Some Muslims: "The Qur'an is so internally consistent, complicated, and elegant.  No man could have written it unaided in so short a time.  No imitator could write even a surah."  LDS: "Joseph Smith was obviously God's prophet.  Look at his prophecies, what he revealed, how popular and persistent has been the religious movement he began."  Muslims: "Mohammed was obviously God's prophet.  Look at his prophecies, what he revealed, how popular and persistent has been the religious movement he began."  

The revelation-based testimonies of many faithful followers of Islam and Mormonism center on these types of truth claims.  Since Muslims and Mormons are equally situated before God (i.e. they are absolutely equal in their child-parent relationship to Him), what rationally explains why the equally sincere truth seekers claim with equal conviction to receive revelation which clearly is not compatible?  There is no reason for an outside observer to categorically find either the claimed revelation of either the Muslims or the Mormons superior to the other (any criticism of the Muslims' revelation, for instance, will necessarily upset confidence in Mormons' revelation by that same token): thus the failure of resolving the contradiction by an appeal to professed revelation.  Perhaps one could look to the number of testifying individuals and conclude the more popular religions (Islam and Catholicism by far) have more witnesses and therefore win- but this outcome 1) is not likely to be favored by much of this post's audience and 2) could be explained away (e.g. by pointing out that the larger group is older and thus as one would expect merely has more inquirers).  

Science/empiricism offers a different approach to approximating/reaching truth than does revelation.  Ideally, science is open minded- any theory is given its "day in court:" facultas probationum non est angustanda "the right of offering proof is not to be narrowed."  However, not all theories are equally meritorious, and therefore theories are rewarded according to perceived merit (its a discriminatory system appropriate appellated a "meritocracy"- see for comparison the Republic of Singapore).  Three example scientific theories to illustrate: a) germ theory, b) a roughly spherical theory of earth, and c) flat earth theory.  The predictions made by germ theory, though initially disbelieved, turned out to be overwhelmingly right ("Although highly controversial when first proposed, it is now a cornerstone of modern medicine and clinical microbiology, leading to such vitally important innovations as antibiotics and hygienic practices."  The spherical theory of earth would predict that when you send out an astronaut and he looks back he'll see a roughly spherical earth.  The prediction bore out: one point for the theory.  The predictions made by the flat-earth theory usually fail (e.g. you'll find an edge if you walk far enough: strike one!).  Thus, some theories suck at making predictions; others rock at it.  (Kenneth Miller similarly juxtaposed contemporary evolutionary theory with intelligent design along these lines in his recent book, Only a Theory).  Those theories which rock at predicting I define as meritorious.  This epistemological approach is very different from religion, whose truth discerning turns on communication from God rather than testing the rational soundness of claims.  

On the one hand, summa ratio est quae pro religione facit- "the highest reason is that which makes for religion." On the other hand, mistaken revelation is a weak foundation on which to build faith or religion: debile fundamentum fallit opus "where there is a weak foundation, the work falls."

The slice of the knowledge pie that is moral knowledge is prescribed for man to know by experience.  Adam and Eve: "by their own experience to know the good from the evil."  That experience is not only the revelatory kind- it's also if not exclusively the internalist kind, I'd wager. 

"Religion should not be a scaffold to maintain the privilege of being right so much as it should be a ladder that prompts us in doing and becoming good."  - George Handley, The Environmental Ethics of Mormon Belief, BYU Studies, 206.

"LDS teaching affirms the supreme authority of divine revelation. However, revelation is not understood as an impediment to rational inquiry but as the framework within which the natural human desire to know can most vigorously and fruitfully be exercised." - Ralph Hancock, Reason and Revelation

Lex plus laudatur quando ratione probatur "the law is the more praised when it is supported by reason."

“Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord reason with you that you may understand”(DC 50:12, italics added). 

Yesterday I read an interesting article- "Restored Epistemology: A Communicative Pluralist Answer to Religious Diversity" by Dennis Potter in Element, the journal of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology.  The author briefly describes the epistemological impact of the diversity problem.  He concludes (as I have) that the existence of diverse testimony (testimony is affirmation of revealed truth and eschatology, such as that borne by the millions of adherents to a book I've read known as the Qur'an) vitiates confidence in one's own personal revelation.  It it I found satisfying discussion of the author's proposed resolution to the diversity problem:

- The current LDS answer to the problem of diversity is through propositional and practical exclusivism (i.e. there is more truth expressed by LDS scripture, leaders, and members that expressed by any other religious tradition is the propositional exclusivism; the claim that the most appropriate life for a human being is an LDS one is the practical exclusivism claim).  I agree- that's why I as a missionary invited all to come unto Christ by being baptized into his church.  I assert that each's life would be better in that out of His church.

- People more often act based on non-doxastic bodily and mental effects than they do based on theoretical postulates about the world (for more on doxastic systems and causation see "The Epistemic Basing Relation.")  Our beliefs more often result from affect than from  propositions  That makes sense- the predominance of human behavior and belief is much more heavily influenced by culture and non-revelatory factors such as upbringing, peer pressure, incentives, and affect than it is by theoretical postulates and religious claims, whose effects on behavior are more often indirect, compound, and/or minimal by comparison. 

- "The central problem with propositional exclusivism is its epistemological hubris."  Yes, we don't communicate as LDS with other religions on a peer basis because we assume a privileged position as the only revealed, authorized religion.  Here's the epistemological crux: the justification for knowledge to an internalist is limited to events within the conscious access of the subject (e.g. earth's creation would not be a candidate justification for knowledge, but the observation of a tree would).  From an internalist standpoint, the LDS faith is nothing special (not in a "position of epistemic privilege").  The epistemic privilege for the LDS faith from an externalist perspective, however, might be that "the Holy Ghost is indeed the origin of their experience."     The external/internal distinction is essentially the Platonic/Aristotelian empirical/theoretical distinction familiar to philosophers.  It's okay to not know how you know something (e.g. you can have a revelation without understanding its mechanics), which is called first-order knowledge (see "Appendix B: Orders of Ignorance" in Armour's book, The laws of software process). But when another testifies of a different truth, the epistemological conflict of "who is right" is significant enough to merit attention and resolution.  "An externalist can give no answer; but the exclusivist must." I agree- a claim bold enough to assert that I'm the only right religion brings the obligation to prove it- otherwise, you'd have to backpedal and say "I think I'm right but you could be too, or we might both be wrong."  There's no room for discussion from the epistemologically privileged pedestal- you must come down from it to engage in true peer-peer religious discussion with a contrarily-witnessing member of, say, the Judaic, Moslem, or Buddhist tradition. 

- The Reformed Epistemology of Christianity's externalism does avoid the pitfall of internalism, namely that internal states can exist independent from and different than external realities- thus, the overly difficult task of producing knowledge is averted.  However, by privatizing the task of producing knowledge, the epistemological burden is carried by the Holy Ghost rather than you or me.  "if the Holy Ghost is in fact the reason for our experiences then we do know what we think we know."  However, our epistemological status is no longer up to us, but to the Holy Ghost, who is not in our direct control.  Yes, it makes sense that if the veracity of truth depends not on my production of knowledge but upon the Holy Ghost, then if I am right it is only because I am lucky, and not because of any effort or evidence I can offer that I know what I know.  If the revelation was false (e.g. came from Satan) or my interpretation incorrect, I have no immediate epistemic claim to discerning the fact.

- "I can have nothing to say to someone who insists that God talks to them and not to me... ultimately, those of other faiths must become one of us or must remain one of them.  On the exclusivist and externalist view, there is no true public square of faith discourse: there is dialogue on our terms or none at all."  "Exclusivism... is more than the claim that we are right and they are wrong.  It is the claim that we have a privileged and transcendent epistemic status, not open to any tool of public investigation... I have the memory that the car is parked in section C and you have the memory that it's in section D, we can submit these claims to the public square of verification.  Externalism says we can't do this with religious belief."   Good call.   

- The principle of continuing revelation inevitably results in fallibilism.  Yes, because a new revelation could correct an erroneous interpretation of a past revelation, it is possible that our current interpretation could be mistaken, and thus since we could be off, those who disagree with us might be right.  The author argues that this recognition enables true dialogue with others, i.e that we really entertain the possibility that they are correct on some point.  His argument seems sound.  There's certainly a great deal of uncertainty regarding the application of doctrines in the church (e.g. does God progress in knowledge?  Is tithing on gross or net?  What will Celestial life be like day-to-day?) - thus, perhaps there are grounds for buying into a #1 explanation (all the people are wrong- and thus perhaps we can get closer to the right through dialogue and testing claims).

- The author then says we should use the empirical method of proving contraries (the scientific approach I described above- try to prove and refute doctrines to test their truth).

- The author tries to resolve the traditional epistemological problem of "infinite regress" by noting that a belief could be challenged before being grounded.  Good call.  He says our religion is conducive to communicative pluralism (which at first blush seems contrary to the exclusivism of the LDS faith).  

- The author points out that under the exclusivist LDS orientation most people are damned because they're not smart enough, if indeed correct beliefs about theological reality are necessary for salvation.  Joseph Smith taught: “a man cannot be saved any faster than he gains intelligence,” and "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” Correct knowledge and intelligence both appear requisite  Additionally, in Moroni 8 it seems clear that failing to correct an incorrect or incomplete about baptism (namely, that infants need it) is sufficient to land you in hell:  "he that supposeth that little children need baptism... should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell."  Most will fail the final exam because they are either not Mormon or are LDS but weren't part of the subgroup that had correct views on doctrines such as atonement, faith, repentance, baptism, and priesthood authority (i.e. there is diverse and often conflicting beliefs about these doctrines within the church and thus if any small group is right, the rest are wrong).  Of course, this wrinkle applies to Christianity as a whole too as precise doctrines advocated in varying creeds increasingly proliferate. Maximus magister erroris populus est - The people are the greatest master of error.

- A position of institutional authority is not necessarily a position of epistemic privilege.  But we believe certain positions entitle the holder to special revelation for his stewardship- e.g. bishop or Prophet, which does give them additional revelatory privileges and a higher status.  Religious authorities and those without a privileged position cite doctrines to bolster broader power struggles.  The author then applies his communicative pluralism or "epistemic democracy" to intra-religious as well as inter-religious dialogue. My agreement with this conclusion that LDS members individually merit no more than a modest epistemological status underlies the openness of religious-relevant issues on this blog.  My epistemological claims are humble: therefore, I invite others to dialogue with me in an internalist way in an effort to grow my collection of truth.  "It is thus appropriate to seek and prepare for revelation by the effort of reason: 'You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right' (D&C 9:8)."  Also, "the things of God are of deep import, and time and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out (History of the Church, 3:295). We are to search, ponder, and think. After all the revelations in 1 Nephi (1st Nephi 11:1) and DC 138 (DC 138:1) came not in response to formal prayer, but in response to righteous pondering." (Seth Melling's Learning in Zion: His Truth, His Ways, His Purposes).  An example excerpt from another blog post of mine to further support this claim:
Just last Sunday, a bishopric member advocated that I cease my line of questioning.  He made the oft-cited argument that "it's not important to your salvation" in response to my discussion of some church policies.  If God always ensures that His children have all the doctrines necessary for salvation, what of the billions who've lived their entire lives during an apostate period?  What of those who aren't preached to?  Are members of the church separate from these two classes merely by virtue of their privileged membership?  Article of Faith nine: "We believe... that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven."  Also, Joseph Smith: "... it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.  Given the doctrinal support for the idea that God doesn't work among men save according to their faith and doesn't reveal until His children ask (e.g. the Doctrine and Covenants sections are almost wholly answers to interrogatories), it would seem to make sense for church members and leaders to be knocking down the doors of heaven to obtain answers to tough questions such as homosexual privileges, surrogate motherhood, and social justice, rather than shutting their  praying mouths on a "we've received all we need" basis like the Jews did to Jesus and many today do to President Monson.  President Kimball's worrying, praying, and raising of the issue likely resulted in the lifting of the priesthood ban against blacks ("God rarely—if ever—uses his prophets as "teletype machines" who mindlessly transmit God's will word for word—he requires his prophets to inquirewith some thought as to potential answers").  Perhaps if prophets a century earlier had cared to pray about and resolve the issue the ban would have been lifted then (see especially Circumstances which preceded the 1978 revelation).  On the other hand, the Lord didn't lift the ban until about 10 years after President McKay and Hugh Brown's attempts to move in that direction, thus implicating some wise purpose(s) in the Lord's forbearance.  It is likely that much truth is withheld because people are so steeped in their traditions:

“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen... Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?... Some people say I am a fallen Prophet, because I do not bring forth more of the word of the Lord. Why do I not do it? Are we able to receive it? No! not one in this room.” - Joseph Smith (emphasis added)

- The "hierarchical epistemic competition within Mormonism is detrimental to community.  This is why inter-religious dialogue is absolutely essential for the production of the community."  Both inter and intra -religious dialogues are subject to the same democratic epistemic ethos.  I concur here, too.  It's probably a bad idea to follow the worldly tradition of exalting the positionally powerful (e.g. by giving area seventies the front rows at the Conference Center).  James and John wanted the positional privilege of sitting next to Jesus (one on the right and one on the left- see Mark 10).  Jesus taught: " Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be agreat among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the achiefest, shall be servant of all" (italics added).  "Our pluralism is based on commitments... that should be developed in the direction of epistemological humility."  The principle of uncoerced love also supports this egalitarian orientation as a superior replacement to the current hierarchical tension in LDS practice.  

Thus, I conclude that although "the diversity problem" should cause one to question his or her purported revelatory corpus, that questioning does not prove fatal.  Additionally, I conclude that "1) all the people are wrong" seems the most tenable of the explanation alternatives expounded above. 

More resources: 

A recent Google Buzz conversation with a friend:

Friend:- No problem. These are just some of the questions that bother me. Even if these questions were answered it would not strengthen my belief in religion. It is one thing for someone to tell you what they believe but it takes it to an entirely different level when someone, like a prophet, tells you that they KNOW the truth. You would think that if someone told you they knew their words were the truth, and it turned out that it was not, then they would be a liar. Maybe it's not that simple. There are plenty of people in the world that say they know the truth, and many that think they are in direct communication with God. Maybe many of them genuinely think they're right. I have known a few people that have told themselves lies long enough that they eventually believe it to be truth. Imagine if what you started with was what you were taught to be the truth. I think it could be possible to interpret a feeling as the voice of the Lord.Jun 28
Brad Carmack - It sounds like you feel that prophets exaggerate their epistemological position. I can see why you would perceive/feel that way. Prophets frequently testify of principles that they claim are true- an example would be a conviction-filled prophet's attestation that Christ is the Son of God. Have you considered, though, that prophets appropriately witness of what is revealed to them and/or what they see and hear? A germane example would be eyewitness testimony- though it is often not capital-T True (e.g.Eyewitness Testimony Part 1), it is nonetheless not inappropriate to honestly bear witness to your perception of what your senses (sight, hearing, spirit) record. Similarly, it may be an overstatement to equate a prophet's conviction with his making a claim of Knowing the Truth in excess of the epistemologically weak condition of all mortals. Perhaps his averred statements are the more modest claims to know (lowercase) the truth (lowercase).Jun 28

> a comical representation of the dilemma from a South Park clip: [addressing the damned]
Hell Director: Hello, newcomers and welcome. Can everybody hear me? Hello?
[taps microphone]
Hell Director: Can everybody... ok. Um, I am the Hell Director. Uh, it looks like we have 8,615 of you newbies today. And for those of you who were little confused: uh, you are dead; and this is Hell. So abbandon all hope and yadda-yadda-yadda. Uh, we are now going to start the orientation PROcess which will last about...
Protestant: Hey, wait a minute. I shouldn't be here, I was a totally strick and devout Protestant. I thought we went to heaven.
Hell Director: Yes, well, I'm afraid you are wrong.
Soldier: I was a practicing Jehovah's Witness.
Hell Director: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
Man from Crowd: Well who was right? Who gets in to Heaven?
Hell Director: I'm afraid it was the MORmons. Yes, the MORmons were the correct answer.
The Damned: Awwww...

>"A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God." (History of the Church, 5:588.) -Joseph Smith source

>"This book of the alaw shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt bmeditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:" -Joshua 1:8

>" But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348). source

>A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.  Joseph Fielding Smith (editor), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137 source

>From "A Man for All Seasons" by Bolt:
MORE: There is no law against that.
ROPER: There is! God's law!
MORE: Then God can arrest him.
ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication!
MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know
what’s legal, not what's right. And I'll stick to what’s legal.
ROPER: Then you set Man’s law above God’s?
MORE: No, far below: but let me draw your attention to a fact — I’m
not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find
such plain-sailing, I can’t navigate, I’m no voyager. But in the
thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man
alive who could follow me there, thank God . . . (He says this to
himself.). . .
ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law’s
your god.
MORE: (wearily): Oh, Roper, you’re a fool, God’s my god. . .
(Rather bitter.) But I find him rather too subtle . . . I
don’t know where he is nor what he wants.

> see my related post on Divine Command Theory

> Difficulties in Summarizing LDS Doctrine
On mormonwiki


>Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural:
"Lincoln's points, that God's purposes are not directly knowable to humans, represent a theme that Lincoln had expressed earlier. After Lincoln's death, his secretaries found among his papers an undated manuscript now generally known as the "Meditations on the Divine Will". In that manuscript, Lincoln wrote:

The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect this.[3]
Lincoln's sense that the divine will was unknowable stood in marked contrast to sentiments popular at the time. In the popular mind, both sides of the Civil War assumed that they could read God's will and assumed his favor in their opposing causes. Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic expressed sentiments common among the supporters of the Union cause, that the Union was waging a righteous war that served God's purposes. Similarly, the Confederacy chose Deo vindice as its motto, often translated as "God will vindicate us."[4] Lincoln, responding to compliments from Thurlow Weed on the speech, said that "... I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them."[5]

See also:
1. Steven Peck's Spring 2010 Dialogue article marrying Darwin and Mormonism:
"A difficulty that will make this project of bringing together
evolution and LDS theology tough slogging is that, within LDS
thinking, what we mean by a “physical universe” is often muddled.
Mormonism displays a kind of expansive physicalism suggesting
that the universe in toto is a farrago of matter of one kind or another
(D&C 131:7), that part of it (“spirit matter”) remains undetectable
by our perceptual apparatuses and instrumentation,
while we have phenomenological or manipulative access only to
the less “fine” or less “pure” part. This materiality includes Gods,
spirits, intelligences, etc., and may exist in extra-spatial and/or
temporal dimensions but does, presumably, still follow laws of
some kind. All matter is subject to God’s manipulation, thanks to
His greater knowledge and inf luence. This theological description
imposes a kind of dualism in which some aspects of the universe
are available to us and others are not. Lacking reliable
epistemic access to the “spirit matter” part of this world, it must
remain outside our scientific theories and practices, even though
it may play a role in a deeper physical reality.10Kent C. Condie, Premortal Spirits: Implications for Cloning,
Abortion, Evolution, and Extinction,@ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39 (Spring 2006): 35-56.

PublisherSpringer Netherlands
ISSN0048-3893 (Print) 1574-9274 (Online)
IssueVolume 34, Number 3 / September, 2006

3.  Four views on salvation in a pluralistic world

 By John Hick, Dennis L. Okholm, Timothy R. Phillips

4.  Religion and revelation: a theology of revelation in the world's religions

 By Keith Ward


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