Nailing Down Mormon Doctrine Correlation

Mormon Stories recently conducted an interview with Anthropologist Daymon Smith. I highly recommend that you check out at the very least the second part of the interview.

The full interview can be found here.

As an outsider it’s sometimes difficult for me the understand how Mormon doctrine can be so unflinchingly solid to some and so fluid to others. Jack recently stated that there is no such thing as “Mormon doctrine” only “a history of Mormon thought”. I thought that was a great way to put it. But now I’m not so sure that’s true. There didn’t used to be “Mormon doctrine” but now there clearly is and the correlation department has quite intentionally been responsible for developing it.

This interview unlocked that riddle for me. In a way, I think I better can understand orthodox Mormons by classifying them into two groups; 1) Those who feel bound and committed to Mormon correlation 2) and those who don’t. Clearly those are broad categories but it makes better sense of Mormonism in light of the Fundamentalist movement and is more meaningful than traditional/non-traditional.

I see some Mormons leverage the complaint against Historic Christianity that it allowed the Council of Nicea to define Christianity too tightly. That same charge seems like something that can directed at Mormon correlation as well.

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30 thoughts on “Nailing Down Mormon Doctrine Correlation

  1. As someone more in #2, for now I am not too concerned about “Correlation = Mormon Nicea” because I am not asked to declare my faithfulness to any list of beliefs coming from the Correlation Committee. In other words, I feel like the Correlation Com. (at least for now) is not terribly restrictive, but rather draws lines in the sand—lines I can readily and frequently cross without consequence.

  2. As someone more in #2, for now I am not too concerned about “Correlation = Mormon Nicea” because I am not asked to declare my faithfulness to any list of beliefs coming from the Correlation Committee.

    BS, you declare your beliefs every two years to go to the temple. Since it seems everything gets run through the correlation committee, you are declaring your faithfulness to a list of beliefs coming from them.

  3. BS, you declare your beliefs every two years to go to the temple.

    Not really, at least if the reference here is to the temple recommend interview. I’d say I’m in camp #2 as well, and I’ve never had any problem getting a recommend. There’s very, very little in the interview about belief.

    What happens if you’re in group #2 but have a job in Correlation?

    Unfortunately, I’ve listened only to the first part of the interview, so I hesitate to say much more now. (I found the first part interesting; in a broad sense, the differences among church leaders are somewhat like the early days of Christianity, when there were differences over some key issues.) For now, all I’ll say is that my impression (based largely on using correlated materials to teach) is that correlation tends to produce a theologically cautious conservatism. There are both positive and negative aspects to that.

  4. Thanks Brian, it at first sounds like a silly hypothetical, but these days I wouldn’t be surprised.

  5. There is a basic core of beliefs of which I personally have a conviction – the theology of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses and Abraham, much of the Doctrine and Covenants, God, the need for Atonement…

    What I do not have a particular testimony of is whether Thomas S. Monson is absolutely authoritative in overruling any of that, or interpreting it for me.

    I basically view most modern General Authorities as highly persuasive commentary on Joseph Smith and the scriptures and little else. Other than that, I concede their mandate to run the Church and have no desire to challenge them in this role.

  6. Tim: as I’ve thought more about the question, I think it’s interesting because I don’t see any problem with it. As I said, I consider myself more in group 2, but I also see no reason* that I couldn’t work for Correlation—no reason they wouldn’t hire me and no reason I wouldn’t be up to the work.

    * “no reason” other than that I probably lack the necessary skill sets and have chosen a very different occupation, etc. But you know what I mean.

  7. Seth,

    How do you define religion that you can separate it from church?

    An overwhelming majority of clear cases of “religion” are not bound to a “church.” The question should go the other way: how do you define religion that it is inseparable from church. Because if you try, I will show you dozens of cases that are clearly religion but do not fit your definition.

    Nice try, gundek. By “nice” I mean “lame.”

  8. Seth,

    Thank you for the explanation.

    Kullervo,

    I am not quite sure what I am lamely trying, maybe you should enlighten me about the intent of my question.

    I would define religion simply as the right manner of knowing and serving God. It is arguable if someone can know and serve God outside of a community of fellow believers.

  9. I would define religion simply as the right manner of knowing and serving God.

    That’s not a definition; it’s a normative position. You are not saying what you think religion-in-general is, but what you think “true religion” or something like that should be. As a descriptive term, it fails, because it excludes all religious expressions that are not done in “the right manner.” By your definition, not only is Christianity the only religion, but your pet flavor of Christianity is the only religion.

    That’s not “religion,” that’s “your pet flavor of Christianity.”

    By your definition of “religion,” Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism, Animism, Paganism, and even Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity are not “religion.” That’s stupid. But when basically everyone in the world says “religion,” they mean to include all of those categories.

    As problematic as the category “religion” might be, your definition is facially wrong because it excludes clear cases of religion.

    It is arguable if someone can know and serve God outside of a community of fellow believers.

    Again, this is because your “definition” is a normative argument, not a descriptive category.

  10. I think that you might should let me know what the lame intent of my question was before we go much further. It is obvious to me that you are reading something into both my question and my basic definition of religion that was not there.

    I fail to see how defining religion as a community with a common belief in God, gods, or the divine (right manner of knowing) and a common piety and practice (right manner of serving) would exclude any of the religions you listed. In each case you listed the religion seeks to know the divine and to respond properly to that knowledge.

  11. His or her beliefs, piety, and practice would have been formulated in the pre-robot community, including the community reported in the Bible and the writing of previous Christians. These beliefs, piety and practice would form the foundation for a regenerated community barring flying goats, supersonic grand pianos, or future evil atheist robot intervention.

  12. I’m not sure we can separate out organizational dynamics out from any religion. Bifurcation points like Tim mentions are just part of a natural process. I view it similar to the National Park’s conundrum with dynamic ecosystems; Are parks meant to: 1) preserve in time an arbitrary historic state, 2) maintain a range of acceptable states, or, 3) simply minimize external perturbations. What dynamic tension are religions meant to maintain, and what level of dynamic tension did God intend for his church?

    I suspect the LDS church may eventually come to a point where one of Tim’s two options becomes dominant (see Schelling models). Although like most things, from the inside, the process may seem very smooth and natural, with only the tipping point seeming distinct.

    I just find it interesting that all New Religious Movements tend to face a similar set of decision/evolution points.

  13. Sigo,
    I find your comment very interesting and insightful. FWIW, I would think that if in some contexts the LDS Church ceased to adapt either towards or against its environment, it would cease to be God’s inspired Church. One of the key points, LDS believe, of the “true and living church” is that when Church leaders seek for additional light and knowledge, or when our culture strays too far from the ability to understand the truth, God will reveal either a new truth, or help us better contextualize an old truth in a new framework. Because society is constantly evolving, we sometimes need a course correction. I mean, I guess God could have chosen to create a static world and a static religion, but, by our viewpoint, He created a dynamic world, static eternal truths, but we only learn those truths slowly and as we can understand them.

    I’m OK with recognizing that we may not get a lot of official, new teaching or recontextualization. Just as long as we don’t give it up completely (you know, the bad stereotype of the Evangelical plugging their ears to God and saying, “No you’ve had your peace when you wrote your Bible, now you need to shut up, and let me live what I want out of it…”)

  14. His or her beliefs, piety, and practice would have been formulated in the pre-robot community, including the community reported in the Bible and the writing of previous Christians. These beliefs, piety and practice would form the foundation for a regenerated community barring flying goats, supersonic grand pianos, or future evil atheist robot intervention.

    Okay, let’s say that in this hypothetical atheist robot overlord world, there remain a community of three hundred Christians, but they have a schism, and one hundred of them adopt a heretical belief system, replacing Jesus with Robot Jesus, who saves us from our sins by user interface with the Great Celestial Computer. They abandon all of the rites and creeds and scriptures of traditional Christianity, and create new ones that they believe are revealed to them in binary code. And they change the name of “Robot Jesus” to “1010011010.”

    I assume this binary faith community, though arguably bizarre, fits your definition of a religion. But let me ask some questions:

    1) But what if the binary faith does not include public or coprorate worship? What if all of their rites and devotions are performed originally, as a matter of personal interface with the GCC? Is it still a religion, even though they are only a community in the mundane sense, if their religious beliefs command them to only perform their acts of devotion in solitude? They have rites, scriptures, beliefs, prayers, and theology. They just, as a matter of ecclesiology, believe in doing no corporate worship whatsoever. Is that still a religion?

    2) Given the situation in 1, whereby no religious acts are required to be performed in a group setting–and in fact group worship is discouraged or even forbidden–what if the binary faith has very few adherents? What if only ten of them form their new faith? What if only five do? And the obvious question: what if, when all of the arguments and schismatics are over, the dust settles, and there is only one binary believer. Binary Faith has rites, scriptures, beliefs, prayers, ecclesiology and theology, but only one adherent, and there has only ever been one adherent? Is this still a religion?

    3) What if this sole binary believer decodes a string of binary numbers he believes has been revealed to him by 1010011010, and he discovers two things: 1. A way rtificially extend his life indefinitely. He can effectively live forever. 2. What he believes is a revelation commanding him to never proselytize, to never initiate new believers into the faith, but to remain forver alone in the trut belief and worship of GCC? Is this still a religion? It will arguably only ever have one member, and it will probably never have any more, but it will also not die out. It has rites, scriptures, beliefs, prayers, ecclesiology and theology, but it only has one adherent who rejects community as a basic article of faith, and it probably only will ever have one adherent.

    Is Binary Belief then a religion? If not, why not?

  15. Yes in each of the three cases binary beleif would be a religion.

    1 I am not defining what the piety and practice of any religion must be in order to “qualify as a religion”. External internal, corporate, public, private all of these are responses to a knowledge of the divine.

    2 I am not defining a minimum number or even that the religion must continue to be practiced be a religion simply that there is a perceived knowledge of the divine and a response to that knowledge.

    3 As I understand this example I would call it an ascetic or hermitic version of the binary religion.

    My definition is not based on trying to exclude any belief system from a “coveted title” of religion it is only based on what I understand to be the core functions of any religion, a knowledge of the divine and a response to that knowledge.

  16. First you said:

    How do you define religion that you can separate it from church?

    And you elaborated with this:

    It is arguable if someone can know and serve God outside of a community of fellow believers.

    But now you have concluded this:

    My definition is not based on trying to exclude any belief system from a “coveted title” of religion it is only based on what I understand to be the core functions of any religion, a knowledge of the divine and a response to that knowledge.

    So your own revised definition of religion answers Seth’s question just fine. Q: “How do you define religion that you can separate it from church?” A: “The core functions of any religion are a knowledge of the divine and a response to that knowledge.”

    If religion is “knowledge of the divine and human response to that knowledge” (and, setting aside the possible problems with the term “divine,” I think this is a really reasonable working definition for religion), then religion can exist independent of a church organization. Seth can be a member of the LDS Church and accept the Church’s authority over whatever Seth wants, but Seth’s religion is his “knowledge of the divine and human response to that knowledge,” which as a member of the Church probably includes both his corporate “Church” worship and his personal spirituality. As an autonomous being, Seth has the capacity to delegate the power of decisionmaking over his response to the divine to the degree he chooses.

    The brethren run the Church–no argument there. To the extent that Seth wants to respond to the divine in corporate with the membership of the Church, he is going to have to deal with that to some degree or another. That’s inherent to doing anything as a body or as a group: by “being a part of the group” you submit your autonomy to the group in some way or another.

    But Seth’s own personal response to the divine? It’s all Seth’s. He has the capacity to allow the brethren to dictate his personal response, but he also has the capacity to ignore such dictates entirely.

  17. Unfortunately you have taken the original question to Seth and read too much into it by thinking that my comment “It is arguable if someone can know and serve God outside of a community of fellow believers” was meant as an elaboration on the question.

    If someone can know and serve God outside of a community of fellow believers is arguable. The solution to the argument is going to stem from the beliefs of an individual, coming either from a personal and/or corporate theology). This augment is only tangential to my definition of religion as the right manner of knowing and serving God (substituting divine for people who reject monotheism).
    The original intent of my question was not to bait or trap Seth with a follow up about “following the prophet” or a Mormon being doctrinally bound to correlation, but only to make sure that I understood how he was using “church” and “religion”.

    The reason for my question stems from my own reading on the pietist movements coming out of the Second Great Awakening in the United States and the affect this has had the Protestant church. These movements in common with Mormonism were anti-creedal and anti-clergy. Different from Mormonism they rejected ritualism. Ritualism, albeit in different forms than found in Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, is important in Mormon religion and I was interested in how these rituals would be connected to the brethren leading the church but not the religion.

    Incidentally, I think that Seth’s comment is not all that different from than you could expect from many post-protestant evangelicals or mainline Protestants. The clergy run the church but not the knowing or serving of God.

  18. Man of a thousand faces – that’s me.

    I’m pretty sure you only had one when I met you . . .

    I think it’s the most Evangelical thing he’s ever said.

    This too.

  19. I think Seth’s sentiment is actually how the Church was originally designed, if not how the religion is often practiced.

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