The simple facts of guilt and joy

Since I acknowledged the fact of God, I have considered what other important facts should be acknowledged, which is the most simple, and how these facts fit together.

Guilt is a simple fact.  Guilt should be obvious to everyone – every sane person gets it. Justice also seems a simple fact- some people should accept guilt and feel it. Logic and honesty also require that I acknowledge that I should accept guilt and rightfully feel guilty.   In fact, everybody should feel guilty.  This fact showed itself in a most visceral way in a small Polish town while staring at room filled with human hair.  Guilt is the case for us all, justice and honesty require it.

The fact of guilt is very simple and sturdy. It remains even after we have been completely distracted from it. Also clear is the fact that virtue permeates every aspect of life and excellence is never perfection.  No matter what the sacrifice, justice and logic continue to point to out the fact guilt in the honest mind – especially in light of the bloody cost of the most common sorts of imperfection and vice.

Virtue is also a fact – there are ways of being that people should never be required to feel guilty for. These ways should be championed and fostered in children.  It is a fact that children should be taught to make a stand for virtue and to suffer wrong rather to sacrifice it.  Life is better with virtue.

It also seems that virtue also seems to dissolve feelings of guilt, or at least relieve the intensity of the feeling.  Some who have the knack for acting with virtuous attitudes can avoid almost any feeling of guilt, even when they engage in unspeakable atrocity.  (e.g. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori)  It’s a simple fact: justice requires guilt, but virtuous feeling alleviates guilt. Of course, when virtue demands performance and sacrifice, guilt shows up when we don’t tender performance and sacrifice. Perfection is required in order to eliminate guilt.

There is one very powerful fact that seems relieve guilt better than virtue: Love. Love doesn’t follow rules like virtue, it’s well outside the rules of justice. It often acts inexplicably, like magic. But love’s power to direct a person virtue and action even when virtue and justice does not require it does not relieve all guilt and bring stable joy. It always demands more love.  With love, amazing joy comes in glimpses and these feelings are only worth anything when virtue shows up with love.

Joy also is a fact. People seem to find joy in all kinds of things: virtue, work, leisure, sensory pleasure, drugs, intellectual contemplation, relationships, fame.  But after the joyful attitude ends with the activity, the weird facts of logic reassert the very simple and pervasive fact of guilt: it’s shadow lies behind every action, every thought, every impulse. Virtue and love (among other things) can distract us from guilt, but justice and honesty continue to reassert guilt as a fact.

It is also a strange fact that joy is rarely found in tandem with guilt.  For some reason – likely rooted in our DNA and culture – the feeling of guilt does not sit well with joy.  For some, any guilt robs the mind of unspeakable joy, especially when the mind honestly recognizes the impossible demands of virtue and love.  For some left without a path to consistent virtue or love, life is pain peppered with fleeting joy, or even completely joyless.

But there is a weird sort of joy.   That joy that shows up even while honestly contemplating the hard facts of guilt is also a well-established fact. There are plenty of cases where the attitude of guilt changes immediately and powerfully into the attitude of joy by adopting a certain attitude — often merely by acknowledging the fact that guilt can turn to joy.  For some, tears of sadness caused by guilt actually do turn to tears of joy.

This sort of joy happens even when people should feel guilty, even when they are not virtuous or loving, even when they are in agonizing pain, hanging mangled on a cross.  Justice, virtue, and guilt all seem irrelevant to the fact of this joy.  This seems to happen especially when people are brutally honest and acknowledge that justice, virtue, guilt, pain, and death are pervasive and undeniable facts.

This sort of joy is an unspeakable mystery for it to drastically undermine these simple facts of life. Given the nature of guilt we have no good words to explain this feeling of joy because it would not to depend on any of our attitudes toward words like: love, happiness, goodness, righteousness, kindness, propriety, virtue, guilt, justice etc..   Perhaps it could be described as “salvation” or “redemption”, but even these seem mixed up in virtue and love, and begin to engender guilt by their association. Maybe a more unique word is necessary.

How is it possible that such unspeakable joy is a fact, even in the honest mind who acknowledges its vices and has never known the magic of unconditional love? Even in cases where the fact of guilt is blaring and inescapable?  What if there was honest joy even when there is honestly not enough love or virtue to distract the mind from guilt?  A sort of joy that somehow rightfully defied nature, feeling, thought, instinct, or description.

What if it was a fact that this joy happened by merely acknowledging that this sort of joy is a simple fact.  A fact far more simple the pervasive complexities of justice, virtue, and guilt.  What if it was this simple, unspeakable, fact that Jesus was pointing to?

Could salvation be that simple? 

Is Peniel ground zero for theology?

The fundamental divide between Mormon theology and traditional Christian theology may stem from their starting point.  Moses tells us of how Jacob wrestled with God in the desert in a place he called Peniel – where he saw God face to face. To Mormons, this is the starting point for all theology i.e. the words received face to face with God.  Put simply, the state of being before face of God is considered the only place where the simple Truth can be found. If anything is, this concept is the beating heart of Mormonism.

Joseph Smith’s peniel approach to truth is elegantly simple- and extremely powerful in its simplicity. It slashes through theological argument, making irrelevant entire worldviews. The approach depends on two important moves.  First, Joseph affirms as a simple fact that seeing something with spiritual eyes is equivalent to seeing something with actual eyes, i.e. a person’s vision of reality is the same in character as that person’s real vision. Seeing an angel “in the spirit” is no less trustworthy than seeing the angel with actual eyes. This point is most simply made in Joseph’s statement that spiritual things were also physical- i.e. as much a part of the world as earth, wind, and fire.  This would come naturally to someone who understood the world in a magical way.  Joseph taught that empirical experiences of the prophets, combined with his own, could more clearly explain the magic that was in the world.

This idea is – as Mormons might put it – very strong doctrine. It’s salience comes in its simplicity, it does not distinguish between classes of experience that are often indistinguishable to the person experiencing them. Joseph was in good company in making this move.  In a sense, this was the key intuition founding Descartes’ philosophy that paved the way for clarity in science.

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Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons

Our friend charismatic protestant friend Cal has taken a position– beleaguered  by most non-Mormons here–that Mormons are Christians.  Although no longer a believer, I thought I would try to clearly lay out the argument for Cal’s position aimed at Protestants.

For purposes of the discussion I am assuming the truth of the Five Solae, the Nicene Creed, and the and the Bible.

I propose that these three premises are true:

1. Jesus prayed for and sought as a goal before God the unity of those that believe in him through the testimony of his disciples, i.e. the New Testament. (John 17: 20-23:

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

2. The New Testament does not make orthodox theology a qualification for inclusion in unity. Jesus was not limiting fellowship or unity to the orthodox.  He is talking about orthodoxy or unity of creed or belief–Jesus established no creed, distilled his message and rarely made it explicit. He warns against false teachers, but Jesus put the focus on distinguishing false teachers based on their fruits– i.e. you will known them by their behavior and effects on the church not (necessarily) their theological errors. 

3.  Mormons believe that the text of the New Testament is the truth.  

Given these premises, my conclusion is that Protestants should embrace Mormons as part of the group that they are challenged by Jesus to be unified with, and seek to come to complete unity.

Notice that I am assuming what Protestant’s believe is orthodoxy to be correct but the strength of the argument holds on a practical and ethical level.  But there is no orthodoxy regarding how unity can and should be achieved. That is an open question.  I suggest that even if the path to reaching unity is unclear– efforts toward unity will lead–ultimately–to a greater prevalence of salvation and faith in Jesus more effectively than efforts toward disunity–which are, generally, the order of the day.  

The Spirit of God — What is it?

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

I have been thinking an awful lot lately about Mormonism, how to explain it, what it is in the grand scheme of things.  I think the most difficult questions surround what the LDS call the Spirit. Nothing is ostensibly more important to Mormons than the Spirit.  Feeling the Spirit is the central experience of Mormonism. It is enshrined as THE only legitimate tool for conversion, it held up as the guide for every decision in life, and is considered the driving force behind the Church and its mission. 

When I was an LDS missionary in California, I participated in the conversion of about two dozen people.  Some of these conversions had an absolutely magical quality to them. I saw dramatic personality transformations. Over and over again, I felt an overwhelming emotional and spiritual response from those I was teaching.  It was like falling in love– an experience equally filled with magic.  It seemed that those I was teaching, my companions, and others involved felt something very real and very similar. The Spirit would seem to fill the room like a thick mist. It was gripping and energizing. The peculiarity and reality of the experiences were unmistakable.  These feelings convinced me of an unseen world and they were the bedrock of my belief in the Church and in Christianity.

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The Curtain Falls on the Mormon Moment

With Mitt Romney’s hopes for the presidency coming to an end last night we not only close out the 2012 election cycle but we also say good bye to “The Mormon Moment.”

I felt certain that Mormonism would be used as a political device against Mitt Romney, specifically the priesthood ban. I was wrong. There certainly were left-leaning writers and opportunist who attempted to promote that angle, but those stories never really made national news. I thought a SuperPAC, unofficially affiliated with Barack Obama would create at least a few television ads attacking Mormonism’s past. Those ads never materialized. I have to say that I think the country is probably better for it. I think John McCain displayed considerable honor by not leveraging Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008 and President Obama returned the favor in terms of Mormonism in 2012.

Mormonism will continue to gain some national exposure about once every 10 years. But it will likely never receive the kind of media exposure it did over the last year. I don’t think the LDS church made any significant gains in converts or positive public perception, but it likewise did not suffer any large embarrassments.

About the most damaging thing to happen to Mormonism was the release of hidden video of the Endowment Ceremony. Interestingly enough, the publisher of that video, NewNameNoah, had his YouTube account suspended yesterday. If the LDS church had any role to play in that action, I think they couldn’t have chosen a better day than Election Day to make it happen. Any hopes for media coverage of that censorship will be unable to find a voice in the current news cycle. The video will live on and will remain publicly available, but will be much more difficult to find off of YouTube. [update: the account was reactivated the next day]

Second on the list of hits against the LDS church would be the church disciplinary actions against David Twede, the managing editor of MormonThink.com. The church wisely chose to suspend its disciplinary actions and Twede resigned on his own terms. He was able to successfully draw greater attention to his website but I think Twede made a number of missteps in equivocating about his potential excommunication being somehow tied to political comments against Mitt Romney.

Third on my list of problem areas for the church in the national exposure was the rise in prominence of some “non-correlated” Mormons such as Joanna Brooks and John Dehlin. They’ve found courage in their unorthodox views and the church has shown, that at least for the time being, it will not be calling people with such vocal views into disciplinary hearings as it did with the September 6. I think these individuals will be sticking around in the discussion of Mormonism and will be called upon by their new found media contacts to speak on Mormon matters at least as frequently as the official church spokesman. Many would consider this the greatest positive to emerge from this Mormon moment.

Robert Jeffress began the year with a discussion of Mormonism’s cultic status within Christianity. By year’s end Billy Graham was removing the word “cult” from his website not only in reference to Mormonism but toward several other religions as well. This may be the greatest benefit to Mormonism from the Romney campaign. The Evangelical use of the word “cult” as a reference toward heretical, new-religious-movements has probably come to an end. I think moving forward you will see “cult” being exclusively a reference to mind-controlling organizations.

Though a positive for the nation, I think the lack of attention on Mormonism in the outcome of the campaign is actually a negative for Mormonism. It shows that Mormonism (and perhaps religion in general) is largely irrelevant in the national discussion. People simply don’t care beyond a passing curiosity. In terms of future converts, it’s much better for a religion to be hated than to be irrelevant.

I’d wager that the next time a spotlight such as we’ve seen cast on Mormonism in 2012 will be caused by either a large political movement to legalize polygamy or some sort of leadership crisis. I anticipate the former (and for sure decriminalized polygamy) before the latter. Many Mormons may have hoped that a Romney presidency would bring about a long awaited acceptance in American culture. The energy and opportunity for that sort of shift has now ended. In the United States, Mormonism will now return to being a topic of discussion for Mormons, former Mormons, a few curious onlookers and detractors and a shrinking number of potential converts.

Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

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The disaffected Mormon problem. My 2¢.

There is a recurring question posed on this blog– What can be done about disaffected Mormons who leave Christianity?

I was first attracted to this Blog about five years ago by this post on the subject: We Push Them Into What? followed up with “Challenged by Jesus” among many others.  And it comes up routinely ever since. David Clark had recent suggestions regarding the problem in  “The C & E Problem“, “Be Positive, Be Christian“, “Consider Christianity(Forgive me if I don’t have any other blogosphere references to this topic  but strangely enough, this blog is the only one I read or comment on with any regularity besides cagepotato.com.)

Tim’s most recent thoughts on the problem are found in “More Than a Bible” I thought I would post my thoughts separately because I wanted to propose an alternative view of the nature of the problem from a post-Mormon, not-at-all-traditional follower of Jesus.  (Plus my comment was just way too long.)

In “More than a Bible” Tim pointed out that statistics show that only 11% of former Mormons identify as some other type of Christian.

I can appreciate the problem that these statistics raise for Evangelicals.  Here  you have a stream of Bible educated one-time very faithful people leaving Mormonism and NOT choosing the real Jesus. This seems like a big failure and lost opportunity for Evangelicals.

Tim suggests more pro-bible apologetics and less anti-bible rhetoric is a solution. The argument seems to be that if those leaving Mormonism believed in the Bible more, then they would still believe in Jesus when they leave Mormonism. Thus, the problem is being laid at the feet of the Church, who claims to want to be part of “regular” Christianity, but consistently undermines the sole source of authority of Protestantism.

First, I don’t think most Mormons believe that the Bible has a hard time standing on its own. Although Mormons talk about inconsistencies and problems with the Bible, they rarely do anything other than read it very closely and as authoritative.  (Surprisingly similar to how they view Church leadership.) Mormons hold very reverential, sometimes literal, and sometimes even fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. I think most Mormons think the Bible is true and reliable in all matters of faith, essentially infalliable. The big problem for Mormons is not what is in the, but what is not.

Even if rhetoric that undermined Biblical validity was common, I can make these observations that may explain the phenomena better:

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