Post-Modern Mormonism

One thing that really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me are Mormons who embrace a post-modern epistimology. There are a numbers of elements of post-modernism which I think are attractive and important. But it’s view of truth is one I can not swallow and I for sure don’t think that a true believing Mormon can accept it.

In a nutshell post-modernism teaches that objective truth can not be known because of the limitations of language to express it (I’ll ignore how self-refuting that is for now). Since Truth (capital T) can’t be known all we can cling to are our own perceptions and convictions of Truth. There are some LDS who embrace this view and apply it to the individual nature of a testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Their reasoning is something along the lines of “My testimony is the truth that I have been given, it may not be evident to anyone but me, but it is the truth that God expects me to live by. What other people do with the truth they are given is up to them.”

The problem with this approach is that Mormonism preaches the opposite. Mormonism and Post-Modernism are incompatible. First off, Mormonism teaches that there is a modern prophet who hears directly from God and clarifies the truth to all men through him. Truth can be known through the LDS prophet. There’s no second guessing what is or is not true after the prophet has spoken. Second, the LDS church proclaims itself to be the one and only true church. You can’t declare other churches or faiths to be true at the same time as saying that you are the “one and only” place where truth can be found. The best you can offer is that other churches contain truth but are not True.

I understand the attraction of a Post-Modern approach for people who may encounter things that challenge the truthfulness of their testimony. It’s nice to escape critique or examination and say “it’s true for me.” It can also be convenient when comparing what President Hinckley teaches as compared to Brigham Young’s sermons. Polygamy (or the priesthood ban or Adam-God) was true then but is no longer true now. But it ultimately doesn’t fit with the LDS church, which claims to be True for everyone.

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15 thoughts on “Post-Modern Mormonism

  1. I would agree that Mormonism and post-modernism (as you explain it) are completely incompatible.

    It was a constant frustration on my mission. Most people I encountered in Germany were fully post-modernized, and the idea of absolute truth was simply not an important consideration for them. Thus, they completely failed to see why the message we were presenting to them was supposed to be important.

  2. This is a very good posting. I appreciate the point of view. For some reason it made me think of the LDS position on the Bible: that it is true only insofar that it has been correctly translated. I have always wanted to hear their explanation of why they haven’t simply re-translated it so that it is correct. After all, the manuscripts are still available in the language in which they were originally recorded. Could it be that there is nothing seriously wrong the the major translations we have?

    And what about those, such as the Greek Orthodox, that still use it in its original untranslated from? How to explain it when they, and we who read it translated into English, get the same things from it?

    I guess I got a bit off topic here. Sorry, I don’t why that comes to mind while reading this psot.

  3. The problem with retranslation Gene is that none of the Scholars agree on what the original Hebrew and Greek mean. Any new translation would simply be discredited by those who disagree. Also, Joseph Smith did do a lot of corrections and clarified many parts. It’s called the Joseph Smith translation.

    That is why I beleive the plates that the Book of Mormon were translated from were taken back. So that it too wouldn’t be translated a zillion times by people with their own agendas. What I so love about the Book of Mormon is its clarity. And it makes me love the Bible so much more and makes its teachings so clear as well.

    Dando –

    It’s always amazing to me how slanted all your posts are… your agenda is crystal clear. I’m glad I don’t come here very often.

    I don’t have much problem with anti-Mormons, as I was one at one point in time myself although wasn’t as vocal about it, but what I do have a problem with is your claim that you simply want to ‘understand’ Mormons better and facilitate more understanding. I’d like your site better if you were simply honest about your intentions, which are and always have been anti-Mormon. Your dishonesty about your intent should tell anyone who reads here all they need to know.

  4. I believe that Dando has always been upfront about his motivation for this blog. He has not hidden the fact that he is a Christian or that he serious problems with Mormon theology.

    Making value judgments about someone’s character based on a few tidbits of information is not a fair thing to do.

  5. You need to read some of the first posts on this site. He most certainly misrepresented what was intended with this site.

  6. Joy said, “The problem with retranslation Gene is that none of the Scholars agree on what the original Hebrew and Greek mean.” That isn’t true. In fact, there is a high degree of agreement on what is said. Various ones just find different expressions of the same message. But they all come to the same understanding, for example, about how salvation is accomplished, and that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth, and that He was resurrected on the third day, and so on and on and on. While exact wording differs, what the Bible teaches does not.

    (In San Diego there is a highway named, El Camino Del Real. Literally, The highway of the King. But that sounds stilted in English, so Royal highway, Kings road, etc. are good translations. They get the same idea across.)

    Your answer seems to indicate that you think Greeks who can read the original N.T. get it wrong, too. Sigh.

    By the way, I am very familiar with Joseph Smith’s translation. Of course, it can’t really be called a translation because He didn’t use the available manuscripts. They don’t say what he “translated.”

    It might be helpful for you to know that I am a ex-Mormon of twenty-odd years who was a tithe paying, temple attending Elder and who has been, among many other callings, an Elders Quorum president and a member of the Bishopric. When I criticize LDS beliefs I do it from first had knowledge and experience. I try to be honest about what I think, and quick to the point, but I don’t do it out of malice.

  7. I can find a lot to criticize in any group of people, of any faith or any culture… That doesn’t make the Church untrue.

    I took New Testament Greek at the college level, and that is how I know that none of the Scholars, even Greek ones, agree on the precise translation. Just as English has morphed over the years and already many language experts disagree on the direct translation of some early English words, so Greek has over 2000 years and the currently living Greeks cannot possibly get all the nuance from the old Greek that is there. They weren’t living at that time and cannot possibly know what some of the slang of the times was. It’s just another reason for the need of a Prophet.

    Also, I find lots of evidence that shows many parts of the Bible are not there that should be. I don’t believe in men voting on what the nature of God is. I don’t believe the Nicean Crede and never did. Since when in any of the Bible did people vote on the nature of God and that was accepted? The children of Israel basically voted on His nature and decided a golden calf is what led them out of Egypt. That didn’t turn out so good for them. HF has always had Prophets and Apostles speak for Him on this earth. He still does. I am moved to tears daily that I am a member of His Church. I love the Book of Mormon and it draws me closer to Christ every time I read its pages. It makes the Bible clearer and more understandable.

    And as I’m so fond of pointing out to Dando, I received my testimony from the Spirit so it cannot be taken away by men. I posted my testimony in reader’s digest form when this blog first started. I’m sure it’s still there if you’d care to read it.

    I’m sorry you left the Church. It sorrows me how many people I am hearing about and meeting that simply go through the motions of Church activity, but who don’t have a real testimony of it. It’s even more sorrowful that they then turn on it and attempt to draw others away with them. I pray that like so many others before you that you will return some day. Many have left for periods of many years and yet have returned, stronger members than ever. I pray that for you.

    :o]

  8. Hi Joy,

    Nice to see you again. Could you please give me a specific example of a portion of the Bible that no one agrees what the Greek translation is? You make this assertion often but I haven’t seen you or anyone back that up. The only examples I can think of are words like “Raca” and “Hallelujah” which are left in their original language and not translated at all. I’m honestly curious and open to hearing your evidence. It’s becoming more and more important to me to hear exactly what you have to say on this matter if for nothing more than my own orthodoxy.

    As far as men voting on what the nature of God is . . . Do you know what the vote tally was for the Council of Nicea? Only something like 2 disenters out of several hundred votes. It can hardly be called democratic with an overwhelming majority opinion like that.

    Also I believe a sustaining vote is exactly what the Quorum of 12 does when the prophet proposes new doctrine to the LDS church. If a prophets words do not pass this sustaining vote, then it is deemed that his words are not prophetic. The vote on the Nicean Creed can be viewed as no different than the standard LDS practice of a sustaining vote. So if it’s voting that you have a problem with, the LDS church may not the place for you.

  9. Right; it’s kind of an LDS myth that the early Christian creeds were established by a democratic process, leaving the hearer to imagine that there were other major contenders, alternatives, that the creeds were hashed out by committee and compromise in a way that is clearly the deeds of men and not the doctrine of God.

    The reality as I understand it is that the creeds were a re-affirmation that everyone was on the same page, in the midst of some major Christian heresies, and that the “vote” was nearly unanimous.

    Not really that much different from the “vote” to sustain the General Authorities.

    And even then, there’s New Testament precedent for deciding major church issues by a pseudo-democratic process (the election of Matthias to replace Judas). An inspired vote is still inspired.

  10. Dando–you are correct that sustaining votes are required–at all levels.

    And I’ll have to chew on the idea of post-modernism and Mormonism, and how they do or could (or couldn’t) mesh.

    Also, whether or not I believe in post-modernism as you describe it. 🙂

  11. Postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.
    The term “postmodernism” first entered the philosophical and theological lexicon in 1979, with the publication of The Postmodern Condition by Jean-François Lyotard.

    Dando, I think that your definition of “post-modernism” is misused. What you are trying to argue is differences between actual relative truth and objective truth. (definitional dodge)
    First, from my studies of scripture the usage of testimony seems almost congruent with the example that you provided of the lds people. (Many testimonies have been stated by people in the bible in the face of opposition.) Furthermore, the LDS people believe that a testimony has to be congruent with the truths at had, and that if one “knows” something is true then it is not possible that someone else can be given a contradicting truth. So the can’t say (and don’t or shouldn’t) “I feel its true, but if you have a different truth that’s ok” or “I know its true even if it is not.”

    Dando said,
    “It can also be convenient when comparing what President Hinckley teaches as compared to Brigham Young’s sermons. Polygamy (or the priesthood ban or Adam-God) was true then but is no longer true now”
    Your statement is appealing to ignorance. For the following reasons..
    1. In the old testament there we laws that we “true” but then were changed and the new law became “true” ( This is found in the inference from exodus and the days of worship in the book of Leviticus)
    2. Christ changed laws and commandments that were previously held as “true”
    3. Solomon’s temple didn’t practice the same things as the tabernacle in the time of mosses.

    Logically you could say…
    -If God is all powerful and all knowing then he has the power and ability to command and revoke his commandments, or teachings according to the need of men.
    -God is all powerful all knowing
    -Therefore, he can revoke and command as he sees need.

    Ergo, I think that your argument is once again filled with fallacy and misguided information. You see dando, like joy stated, your objective is not “A discussion of differences and similarities between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity,” but rather it should read:
    “A discussion of my personal opinions on why Mormonism is wrong”
    Humm… blessed are the peace makers…
    Thank you,
    John

  12. Let me be clear on two thing:.

    1) I recognize that I am not giving a full definition of post-modernism. I am isolating one feature of post-modernism and showing how it is not compatible with Mormonism. There are MANY more aspects and features of post-modernism which I am not even remotely touching on. I also recognize that post-modernism is a bit of an anathema (sp?) and once you begin to attempt to define it, Post-modernist get uncomfortable because many Post-Modernist are generally uncomfortable with definitions is general.

    2) I am not in any way, shape or form saying the Mormonism = Post-Modernism. In fact I am saying the exact opposite. Nor am I saying Mormonism is false because Post-Modernism is false (or vice versa). When I mention the difference between Hinckley and Young’s teaching, I am not saying those differences in teaching are wrong because post-modernism is wrong. I am saying that some are tempted to employ post-modernism to overcome those differences.

    I have never been shy about the fact that I think certain elements of Mormonism are heretical. In turn I recognize that LDS see my theology to be heretical and apostate. I don’t believe that the fact that we both think the other is wrong in some way means that we can’t have an open dialogue. If you believe that friendship can only be formed by those who are in agreement, then I mourn the loss of the potential of our relationship.

  13. John,
    Your comparison to the change in LDS doctrines (Adam-God specifically, not polygamy, which I find internally consistent in LDS doctrine) to examples in the scriptures of when God changed a law doesn’t make sense. Brigham Young said that Adam was God the Father, multiple times, and while he was ‘speaking as prophet’.

    The Church teaches that that is not true, without ever giving light as to why Adam was God the Father in the 1800s but is no longer… (which, logically, doesn’t make sense ;)). The Church teaches that it has never been true–I think that Spencer W. Kimball said that it was a great evil to think that (or something along those lines.)

    Dando, getting back to your post… I don’t think that Mormonism is inconsistent with post-modernism at all. There is no reason why, in post-modernism, there can’t be absolute truth. Post-modernism seems (to me) to be saying that we cannot explain to each other any absolute truths.

    Let’s assume the LDS Church is true, and that post-modernism is a correct theory. Let’s also assume that, since the LDS Church is true, there is an Absolute Truth. The church teaches that to find out the truth, you should pray to your Heavenly Father and ask Him, and that He will make it known unto you. It doesn’t say how–and, in fact, says that everyone’s experiences may be different (consistent with post-modernism).

    Sure, there’s a prophet, and he lets the people know what the Absolute Truths are–but then people are to go home and pray about it and find out for themselves–have it be made clear to them.

    In fact, a post-modern theory makes a lot more of the Church doctrines make sense–the fact that there are so many inconsistencies from person to person could be attributed to God giving people the Truth in the way that is most beneficial to them, and the way they’ll understand it. It also makes the lack of congruencies in doctrines between people (Did Jesus suffer an infinite atonement? Or did Jesus suffer the sum total of our sins?) less relevant.

  14. Katyjane said: “Post-modernism seems (to me) to be saying that we cannot explain to each other any absolute truths.”

    But it’s been explained to me that this IS the role of the Prophet; to explain to us absolute truths. If none of us can explain them, including the Prophet, then what is the point of the Prophet? I understand that the LDS church teaches that we receive our own inspiration. What makes the Prophet significant? Couldn’t we just listen to everyone’s inspiration and then pray on it?

    I’m not going to spend a lot of time digging up scripture or General Conference talks but I could find plenty of evidence that “when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done.” There really isn’t room for disagreement with the Prophet in the LDS church. If a BYU professor started teaching something like “I know the Prophet has told us that the Book of Mormon is true, but when I pray about it I get a different answer. The real truth on the matter is too elusive for any one man to express. It’s entirely possible to be a faithful Mormon and not accept the Book of Mormon as historical fact.” I think that professor would soon learn that the General Authorities don’t believe that Post-Modernism is compatible the church.

  15. I see what you’re saying Dando… and in that respect, you’re right. What the prophet says is the Absolute Truth. But… the interpretation thereof is usually not very clear.

    And it is a very dogmatic church–which probably seems contradictory to post-modernism.

    But, I think that with God all things are possible… including living in a world where post-modernism exists and the LDS Church is true. (I don’t think that is the case, but I think it is definitely possible with God, if that makes any sense.)

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