Christ as a hidden answer to despair

This is a quickly drafted response to Andrew S about this comment:

I don’t think that it is pain is a pre-requisite for understanding Christianity, but enormous pain is just a part of life- that is the message of the Buddha as well as Christ. In my view, Christ is about facing reality. Discovering the reality of despair is as easy as looking out the window, most simply ignore it because they don’t have to/want to worry about it.

Andrew asked: How does this reality support Christ, rather than diminish/preclude Christ?

The short answer is that the despair and pain we see in the world neither proves nor disproves Christ, nor does it reveal Christ.  There is no explanation for why the world is the way it is.  The fact that more people do not find joy in Christ just shows that the way is straight and narrow and few will find it.

I think Christ is a reality just like I think language is a reality.  It is obvious that language exists, but I can’t explain why it works or how.

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The Message of Sin to a Mormon Missionary

I spent quite a bit of time as a missionary seeking out Evangelicals to talk with.  (I spent 8 months of my mission within a mile of Azusa Pacific University, and I would tract through the student housing for fun.)  Most of the Evangelicals that I met approached me with one of two attitudes: (1) ridicule, and (2 ) fear. I have never felt anyone fear me like I have felt in the presence of some true-believing Evangelicals when I was a missionary. I can chalk some of this up to pure physical presence (I was 6″2, and built a sort of like a skinny orangutan) but I am not a particularly hostile person, and I had made it clear that I was there to learn from them if they were.

It seemed that most of the fear came when I expressed my faith with both confidence and demonstrated knowledge of the Bible.  I seemed to be able to explain my faith better than they could, and in a more confident spirit. Because they “knew” I was wrong, this made them fear that they did not have the prowess or ability to correct me, so they simply wanted escape.  They saw me as a representative of the devil, when I knew I was a representative of God. I knew I was not from the devil, I knew I was there to save them, and they seemed to fear the salvation on offer.  Their fear made me think that the Gospel they believed in must be deeply confused.

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Questions Regarding the Authority of Scripture

images (8)Here are a bunch of questions that stand out to me when I read discussions between Mormons and other Christians regarding the authority of scripture:

1. Does the authority of scripture always depend on facts not fully described in the text?

2. Does the authority of scripture depend on whether it was (1) received by revelation, (2) by its uniquely accurate representation of facts, (3) something else? (If (3) what?)

3. What is the basis of the special authority of scripture over other religious texts?

4. What determines the importance of any particular idea, thought, or account in scripture?

If you have a few, let me know what you think.

Vision vs. Explanation: LDS Godhead and the dogma of the Trinity

Andrew brought up a point that I often scratch my head about: Why does it matter whether you describe God as the Godhead or the Trinity?

I am not quite sure how my understanding of the Trinity influenced my new understanding of Christ. But given that a greater understanding of the Trinity may have played an important part, I don’t think the LDS should not reject the creeds simply because creedal Christians reject LDS doctrines.  I think it is reasonable to accept the LDS view of Godhead as a summation of literal interpretations of the visions of God found in the scriptures, but it is not reasonable to fail to affirm the Trinity as a extremely important explanation that fits in with a larger body of philosophy.

The LDS claim that all we know about God comes from direct experience with God (spiritual experience) and thus we can only really grasp God through spiritual practice, which includes asserting as doctrine the literal meaning of scripture.  Joseph Smith’s theology was not in the words themselves, but in the knowledge brought through the Spirit when pondering the words and applying them to life. Joseph Smith  describes this position at the tail end of his most important revelation about the three-tiered nature of heaven (D&C 76):

But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; . . .

 

Doctrines are words attached to mystery. Any LDS who thinks that the scriptures explain God should keep this in mind. God is inexplicable, all knowledge of God is going to be essentially beyond explanation to others.  Whatever explanations we do formulate are simply to orient our understanding of God within the other knowledge, perceptions, and beliefs.

The Godhead is a summation of the visions of God.  The Trinity does not do this, it is just a philosophical attempt at defining the mystery of why there is only one God that is three persons.

Joseph Smith taught that spiritual visions were more important and carried more authority than philosophical explanations. This may be true, but even so, it would not eliminate the utility of philosophical explanations and catechism for pointing to spiritual truth.  It is perfectly reasonable to accept a Trinitarian explanation of God in precisely the same way it is reasonable to accept rights-based interpretation of human government.  Likewise, it is fine to conceive of God as a divine Man – as Stephen did in the vision recorded in Acts – because that is how God shows up for some people.  What is not reasonable is to take a vision for a reasonable/philosophical/historical explanation, just as it is not reasonable to explain matter by simply re-telling what it looks like.

As I mentioned before, all theology and creeds are existentially the same as the whistling of beavers.  The difference between theologies is most simply, the attitude they produce in those who speak and hear them as truth.  In some ways, denying the value of the Trinity is similar to denying the value of Newtonian physics. Even if you have proven the validity of the theory of General Relativity, it does not make sense to reject Newton’s theory as vitally useful. Thus, it may be reasonable to posit dogma such as transubstantiation, the Trinity, the hypostatic union, etc. to consistently orient our understanding of scripture with the body of intellectual work that girds our philsophically-minded view of the world — even when these explanations conflict with the literal wording of certain visions.

Christ doesn’t let up

There is something about my state of being that has changed and something that seems beyond my control.  What is striking is that it does not feel like the Spirit, it feels like nothing inside me, it feels like the world itself has changed.  Whatever the fact of Christ is, it is unrelenting.

When I abandoned atheism when I found it to be incoherent, the God that I acknowledged was not the personal God that I believed in as an Latter-Day Saint, it was simply the mystery that is the source of the world.  Formulated in this way, the fact of God was nearly impossible to dispute, I simply accepted that I came from something that I could not grasp or explain.

When I wrote this post, I was grappling with the question of whether the words of the Gospel were just straightforwardly true, that in Christ we are saved from the pain of guilt (hell); whether there was a source of “living water” that ends our thirst for joy. There was no prayer, and no answer. The question was simply one I seriously posed to myself: Is there any escape from guilt?

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Mormonism, post-Marxism, and the liberal challenge of John Dehlin

Slowcowboy asked in the last thread about how Mormons are like Catholics. The question can best be answered from a 20,000-foot view of the goals of Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons within Christendom.

The Catholic goals are (1) to protect and preserve the proclamation of the New Testament and (2) maintain the power and influence of the Catholic church as holders of the keys of the priesthood. Protestants had two primary political goals, (1) rationally clarify and re-proclaim the message of the New Testament as the basis of the church and (2) break the political power of the Catholic church. The Mormons goals are (1) reinstate spirituality over rational theology as the primary mover of the church, (2) re-institute the earthly priesthood authority instituted at the time of Christ, (3) establish Zion in preparation for the second coming.   All things considered, the Mormon goals are not unreasonable in the context of the history of Christendom. However, I think the Mormons are operating with some distinct disadvantages in their understanding of Christ.

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A brief account of my conversion to “half-Protestantism”

I plan to post more on this but this is a brief response to Ray, who asked about my conversion from atheism to what I call “half-Protestantism” Another way of putting it is this, while I was a Mormon, I felt that the Spirit was representative of God. I lost faith in a personal creator of the universe when I determined that all we know about God is myth, not fact. I recognized the Spirit as a special kind of intuition, but not necessary the source of “truth” only more myth. In this philosophical move, I lost all faith in Mormonism. I think you could call me an atheist because I denied the existence of God, mainly because I did not think that whatever  caused the world was sufficiently definable to be called a “thing”.  In other words, I did not think I believe in God made any sense without a sensible definition of God, and I did not believe that any definition of God I had heard made sense.

In November I accepted that there is a fact that is also the deepest mystery that yielded the world, I accepted this fact as God. I sought to sort out what that meant, including trying to determine if it made sense to call God a “person” or a “father” i.e. whether those sorts of myths meant anything at all in light of science and philosophy. I started thinking about what could be behind the myth of the love of God. I posted this about Mormonism and the love of God and the Mormon approach to theology.

While in this process of coming to terms with how I could sensibly talk about God it dawned on me how unique orthodox Christianity was in concept with regard to virtue, sin, and redemption,and the world. I began to think that if the love of God means anything at all it is a means of escape from the torments we face in the world that came from God. I recognized that it was unquestionably that there were experiences of reconciliation where justified guilt turns to joy in the human mind without rationalization.  When I accepted this as a fact, the same experience happened to me, I felt joy.  At root the joy did not come from a spiritual experience, it was from the real recognition that the guilt that hung over my life was, in reality, somehow redeemed.

In my past religious life, I have experienced such joy in the context of spiritual experiences, but I recognized that the joy I now felt was not a spiritual feeling brought on by prayer, but a simple fact of reality that I had failed to see before.  It was similar to when I first grasped calculus, but in this case it seemed to allow a solution for any problem of the soul.

I consider myself a “half-Protestant” because I accept what the New Testament was talking about as reality, i.e. the fact of Christ. I also believe the New Testament reliably points the mind to this fact.  I am only “half” Protestant because although I am clear on the redemption of the soul, I am still unsure on the other half of the Gospel, i.e. the redemption of the world.

Whatever new light or insight I now have is similar to what I had as an LDS, but I think contemporary LDS teaching does not make the fact of Christ clear to most of its members in a way that they can readily explain it or talk about it.  In this sense I think LDS are just bad Protestants, i.e. they do not clearly repeat the proclamation of the New Testament even though they proclaim it as the Word of God.