The chief differences between Mormonism and Christianity are often difficult to decipher. I recently attended a seminar presented by Carl Mosser in which he tried to spotlight the different faiths in terms of contrasting worldviews. It’s one thing to say that they are similar because they both feature Jesus as the Savior of humanity. It’s another to broaden the picture to the origins of the universe itself. Is Jesus the only self-existing Creator ever or is he one of many self-existing beings? Perhaps he’s part of a vast universal system that forms matter together into beings that in turn form more matter together.
In a good faith attempt to illustrate the various religious views on the nature of God (and the capital “U” Universe”) I created this diagram. A comment by Christian J inspired the reptilian illustration. Virtually no one sees God as some sort of reptile, it’s merely a humorous attempt at illustrating the ideas that each worldview presents.
I will gladly admit that the Mormon section was the most difficult to capture. Depending on the Mormon you talk to, and the day you talk to him, I’m sure there are many different ideas floating around. Blake Ostler for instance will give a picture more inline with Social Trinitarianism. So go easy on me if you think I got it wrong. If you disagree, I’m interested to know how you would have drawn it.
Click the image to see the full-size version, you may have to click the image again when it pops up to see it in full magnification (browser dependent).
*Made a few clarifying edits on 11/8/11.
I like what you’ve tried to do, and the reptile is just splendid. If I were God, I would choose to look like that for sure.
I think you do a fine job with most of the categories. The Trinitarian illustration could cause some confusion if someone tried to over-interpret it: they could see some kind of corporeal connectedness if they don’t pay attention to anything else that has been said on the matter. I don’t count that against your illustration though. Also, it (potentially) addresses a question I had been meaning to ask you: In principal, could it have been possible for God-Father and God-Jesus to exist had God-Spirit never existed? The illustration implies yes; there could just as easily have been a 2-headed reptile as a 3-headed. Moreover, there could have been a 4- or 5-headed reptile God. It’s just that that’s now how things happened/are.
I think the Mormonism illustration breaks down for all the reasons you say in the original post and more. It’s far too complicated; you’ve tried to address too much in one cartoon. But then again, there is a lot to address; for example, if one holds firmly to the concept of Heavenly Mother, then that must be incorporated into any model. Unfortunately, the diversity of Mormon belief is too great an obstacle here.
The one place I think most Mormons, regardless of their “version,” would disagree is where you place the Universe as producing God. Drawing the Universe (or just Matter?) and God both as eternal might be more acceptable. And I’m confused by the gray arrow pointing upward from Father/Mother at the Universe; is that meant to indicate the interaction with and control over the Universe that God enjoys? Without a label, I’m not sure what it means.
I’m also curious to hear how a Pagan accepts your illustration. It seems to me that your “good faith attempt” broke down a bit there into something a bit more cartoonish/comical. But I’m no expert!
The Mormon Idea of God might be conceived of as a stand of aspen trees, such as Pando .
I gotta agree with Tim here. Elohim is a supernatural being governed by pre-existing natural law. For example the eternal progression is not in submission to the god. That being said I’d look at the Hinduism diagram as being much closer to what most non-monotheistic faiths believe and likely much closer to what Mormons believe where God creates the universe creates the lesser gods possibly in a large or infinite cycle.
I think it is reasonable to state that the universe produces God to some degree. Without the universe and its laws, God would not be God. however, I think it would be a mistake to limit the “universe” to the known physical universe. The term “universe” here is probably used in slightly different ways in each paradigm.
CD-Host: Since I, and many other Mormons, believe that God has always existed, it makes no sense to talk of something else as “pre-existing.” That is why I suggested something like showing God and the Universe both as eternal. This is not a hierarchical point.
Jared C: I agree. That’s part of the difficulty Tim faces in trying to “draw” Mormonism. fwiw, when I responded to Tim’s post, I tried to consider “capital U Universe” in a broad and even metaphysical sense.
Exactly. The definition of the universe changes as well.
Has always existed relative to your or to him? In other words does Elohim perceive himself as having never been born?
BrianJ said everything I would have said, but better and more thoroughly.
Brian J said:
I think that it’s probably possible that more than 3 persons (or less than 3) could be God. We believe in a Trinity not because a Trinity is ontologically necessary but because that’s what scripture reveals. . . Or I could be wrong
The arrow above Heavenly Father points up because Heavenly Father is part of a larger family tree. It extends down to his children and it points up at his ancestry.
I thought about drawing the capital “U” universe as co-eternal with God, but I don’t think that’s right. I believe CD-Host is a Mormon, so I’m glad to see him agree with me. Let me try to explain:
I am a carbon-based life form. Carbon is an “eternal” element. Therefore the carbon that forms me is “eternal”. I am also a creative being. I create and destroy using the material around me. But I was formed and created. The material in the universe is broader and older than my consciousness. I am subject to the physical laws that precede me.
In the Mormon universe, Heavenly Father (and presumably all other gods and all future gods) was formed from an “eternal intelligence”. He then goes on to create our small “u” universe with the pre-existing material around him. He finds himself subject to the ordinances, laws and priesthood that existed before him. He does not create these things, they all inform him on how the capital “U” universe works. He in many ways is still progressing in knowledge of these universal things that came before him. Therefore he is a product of the Universe.
I know that this presentation might clash with Mormon sensibilities, after all Heavenly Father did create our small “u” universe. Pragmatically Mormons deal with a God who produced the universe. But this is the grand picture that Mormonism is drawing for us about the history and nature of the plurality of gods. If a Mormon wants to reject the scene, I’m all for it. Please reject it. But to do so, you’re going to have to discard a lot of conventional thinking and a number of authoritative teachers and teachings.
Part of the reason the Mormon diagram is so convoluted is that I tried to include everyone and everything Mormons refer to when they talk about deity. That’s a lot of personalities and putting them all in one picture makes for a very busy scene.
The Pagan diagram is potentially even more complex. I was lazy and it seemed nearly impossible to try to show every dynamic involved.
Observation #1: Of course you got it right. Mormonism really isn’t that difficult to understand and it’s far more uniform than Mormons like to pretend it is.
Observation #2: Of course Mormons are going to say you got it wrong. You could have drawn every conceivable option and put said Mormon’s preferred option in their favorite color and they will still say you got it wrong on principle.
DC ^ =)
It’s hard for everyone to have an outsider take a crack at making a simple illustration of a complex part of their faith, so I don’t mind the resistance. If the only real problem with it is the faith of the illustrator, I can live with that.
Of course Mormons want to have an open ended view of these things and leave open the option to change their mind on all of it. Unfortunately I can’t draw future speculations.
I think the only real alternative illustrations would be 1) to remove Heavenly Mother entirely and not have an ancestral line of gods and placing God above the Universe. 2) Illustrate various humans, such as Joseph Smith, filling the role of Holy Ghost at different times 3) Show Heavenly Mother filling the role of the Holy Ghost.
CD-Host: “does Elohim perceive himself as having never been born?” I dunno. Perhaps. (I assume that “Elohim” is synonymous with “God the Father.”) The belief I was aiming at, however, is that all spirits—ours and Elohim’s included—are eternal. They never had a beginning nor will they have an end. I can see, however, that that still leaves room for a time when the person whom we now call Heavenly Father/Elohim was not yet “God.” Perhaps that is what you are getting at? (I’m agnostic on that point, btw.)
Tim: Cool. I’m glad I was right about the “Trinity not because a Trinity is ontologically necessary but because that’s what scripture reveals” point, because if I was wrong it would mean I still didn’t understand Trinitarianism. This gives me hope that I finally understand it—at least as well as a Trinitarian anyhow 😉
Thanks for the clarification on the gray pedigree arrow. Makes sense what you were going for. (I guess it still means that the illustration is not totally clear. I don’t know how anxious you are to perfect this, but that would be something to tweak.)
“In the Mormon universe, Heavenly Father was formed from an “eternal intelligence”.” As I indicated to CD-Host, I’m agnostic on this. But since I think you’re trying to capture the majority Mormon view, you’re probably right to approach your diagram like this.
Putting aside my own views, the problem I still see is that there is a kind of chicken-before-the-egg question in Mormonism: suppose that we take the view that God was once a man who worshiped his own (i.e., a different) God the Father, and so on ad infinitum. Since that lineage goes back forever, it’s not correct to place anything (i.e., the Universe) definitively before that—which is what your diagram does. (I’m going to interject to say that I’m not trying to argue against your diagram, I’m just trying to make it as widely acceptable as possible.) Neither the Universe nor God (or Godhood) has a beginning. The other beliefs depicted in your drawing set the reader up to think that you’re suggesting chronology, but that breaks down when you hit Mormonism.
The reason this is important is that it detracts from what I think is your larger point: that the Mormon God is in some way formed by/influenced by/subject to the Universe—and that the historical Christianity God is not. Mormons wouldn’t put it that way—they’d say something like “God follows eternal laws/principles” or even “God became God by mastering the eternal laws of the universe.” Since I think that you want to bridge Mormons from that way of speaking to the greater implications of such a belief, and how it signals fundamental differences in what Mormons and historical Christians mean by “God,” I don’t want your diagram to get bogged down by a distraction.
I’m still not sure how I would draw it differently though. Part of the beauty of your diagram is its simplicity, but maybe if you caved a bit and drew: “Eternal Laws” –> God(s) Universe (where “Eternal Laws” points to both “Gods” and “Universe”) that would avoid the confusion…?
I appreciate the effort Tim – regardless of my quibble with this or that. And if the Mormon concept of Deity is hard to render, that’s not really your fault. What I’ve found is that a lot of ‘religious’ people take for granted what they believe about God. Attempts like these should help us all communciate better our beliefs – and more imortantly – examine them closely for ourselves. For example, I can see a Protestant thinking, “huh, I guess the JW’s really are closer monotheism than we are.” Or a Mormon saying, “I see a little better why my beliefs seem so foreign to traditional Christians.” Anyway…
Brian I think what I hear you saying is that I need to better explain what I mean by “universe” for Mormons to embrace the diagram. It’s not that I misdrew it. It’s that I didn’t label for clear recognition. Is that right?
I’ve been discussing this with a theologian and he thinks I’ve most mischaraterized Social Trinitarianism. So there probably will be some revisions and tweaks.
Tim: that’s probably right. I’m sorry I can’t say for sure because I’m trying to think through this myself right along with you. I was even thinking on the ride home today that a word like “Existence” might work better for Mormons and still work for other Christians—that’s kind of more what you mean by Universe anyway (i.e,, not just the physical universe, but also the physics, morals, time itself, etc. that make the universe what and how it is). But I fear that word might be too esoteric.
A side problem that I’ve also been thinking about is how you will deal with arguments on the nature of (i.e., creation of) evil/Satan/chaos. Maybe it’s best not to include those—or better, to create a companion illustration (in red ink, of course!).
But if you really want Mormons to embrace the diagram, you might also have to work on hiding the obvious Trinitarian bias 😉
Yes and if you experience full exaltation then the universe you create will occur in your future even though the spiritual beings will be eternal relative to their universe. Maybe for the Mormon diagram the 2nd layer should be in a “sphere”. The definition of universe is slippery between these frames.
A diagram this simple has a tough time with more complex ideas of creation. Let me jump over to Hinduism which gets a simple picture. For a Hindu the material world was we know it was created by Brahma, one of the gods in the Trimurti (trinity): Brahma (creation), Vishnu (preservation) and Shiva (destruction). In some sense Vishnu is the supreme God, even though he is formed from Brahma, Brahma creates because of Vishnu. And that idea can be taken further as the 5 acts of Shiva, that the creation is from the destruction.
Then on top of this whole later there is Adi parashakti the mother of the Trimurti. The power beyond the universe. And then on top of that Brahman, the absolute godhead who is fully impersonal playing the very nature of reality emerges from it. But as Brahman is the sustaining force of the Universe he is tied back into yet even a higher form of Vishnu (preservation)….
But stepping back, Brahman is eternal in the way that God the Father in the orthodox trinity is eternal. Created beings like the Trimurti may be begotten not made (i.e. like God the Son) but are eternal in a lesser sense and the diagram captures that. If the diagram were more accurate, creation would be an infinite regressive paradox. I’d use something more like lizards begetting lizards and a circle if I wanted to diagram this. But… ultimately if you are trying to blur out the details and just make a simple comparison, Tim’s picture is fair.
1) That there is some sort of medium and pre-existence for the Gods
2) Gods begat Gods.
If you want to nitpick I don’t even agree with his Trinitarian diagram. I read the trinitarian diagram as implying, Monophysitism. It also doesn’t have eternally begotten aspect which unifies the trinitarian god’s eternal perfect unchangingness while engaging in fundamental change. But again the diagram is aiming for broad strokes and it is in the same sense that I think the contrast is well made with Mormonism.
Every frame is oversimplified, but the point of the diagram is to capture in broad strokes the core distinctions. And those are right.
Hey everyone, I’ve been a reader here for a while, but not much of a commenter…
Many of the mormon missionaries I’ve visited with have given me the impression that its “beyond their pay grade” to speculate much on the ancestry of Heavenly Father, even if there are some teachings on the subject. So I wonder if a veil or a cloud would be acceptable object to represent what Tim’s upward gray arrow is pointing at?
Also It seems important to make a distinction between this ancestry cloud and the Universe (Big “U” or little “u”) as BrianJ starts alluding to. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but if you don’t make some kind of real differentiation you ultimately fall into pantheism or a simple infinite regress.
If that’s the case, then wouldn’t BrianJ be right about the chicken and the egg problem?
I made a few clarifying edits to the chart. You can see it here
jprehn, It is an infinite regress. It can’t be escaped.
I think Tim got the Universe produced God part right. If God = a reptile then I think the Mormon diagram is correct. In LDS thought, God is part of the universe, he organized it from pre-existent, co-eternal things. Everything that is, is part of this universe. Therefore, it is reasonably correct to say that this universe, and some process that exists within it produced the reptile (god), because the reptile was not always a reptile, it evolved to be such. Trinitarians believe that everything is part of the universe, except God.
But what the diagram may be missing is the sense that, in Mormon thought, all those who become like God are one with him in the same way that Jesus is one with the Father. In Mormonism becoming like god involves joining Him in the most intimate connection, not unlike the social Trinitarian view or even the Trinitarian view. Those who become gods are also part of that one God that is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. God is made up of myriads of persons not just the three of the trinity. Therefore it may be more accurate to depict a thousand headed reptile (or as I mentioned, a connected stand of aspen) rather than a multiple lizards. Mormonism is not like paganism in that respect. Pagan gods are individual, different and not intrinsically unified with one another. They reflect different elements of the universe. God in LDS thought is the central power/good within the universe, those that are exalted participate in this singular dynamic.
In the Trinity, there are three persons that are one reptile (and have always been that reptile) The reptile is not part of the universe, i.e. it is the only thing that is not the universe. In Mormonism, there are myriad persons that are one reptile (but they have become part of that reptile via experience) that reptile is the organizing force of the universe.
There is not necessarily an infinite regress. It seems from my understanding that the original God was formed in the same way a planet or star is formed, by the operation of natural laws on existent matter. Spirit is matter in Mormonism, of course we have no clear idea of how spiritual laws work on spiritually atomic level.
You are correct. It’s either infinite regress OR the first god was/is a super advanced space alien.
Sorry, that should have been super evolved (not advanced) space alien.
So if he/she/it can get it done without any supernatural help, why the hell do we need any?
“he first god was/is a super advanced space alien.”
Aren’t we all?
The “alien” allegation is a common quip against Mormonism, but there is nothing more alien or strange to humans than the Trinitarian god in every sense of the term, so i don’t think it adds anything meaningful to the discussion. It’s like calling Jesus a “zombie”.
An alien is still a product of the capital “U” universe. He comes from some sort of pre-existing matter.
Of course it can. For example it can be made into a circular regression for example. Different spheres exist in different times so:
A’s Heavenly Father is B
B’s Heavenly Father is C
C’s Heavenly Father is A
Each of them might even perceive an infinite regression while being part of a circular one. That being said, Brigham embraced the infinite progression as infinite, an infinite unchanging progression. The system is absolutely perfect.
Tim: I like the edits. You clarified the pedigree arrows in Mormonism which I think is a big help. Maybe it’s just from talking it over here, but that also seems to smooth over the problems I mentioned earlier about a God that is just as eternal as the Universe. And while I agree with what Jared C says just above about becoming one with God, it is my own experience that that idea is underdeveloped/underappreciated* within Mormonism and thus, not absolutely necessary to capture here. Your diagram certainly does not deny that oneness, at any rate.
* As with many other such ideas held by some Mormons, some of which (including my own) would demand that you radically change your illustration. That’s impractical. The chart as it stands captures the view that probably the vast majority of Mormons hold and it serves to highlight how other Christians (who have bothered to study Mormonism) look upon Mormonism. And even for Mormons like me who hold views that would require a major re-draw, the chart captures the most important distinction of Mormonism.
Jared C: “In the Trinity, there are three persons that are one reptile (and have always been that reptile). The reptile is not part of the universe, i.e. it is the only thing that is not the universe. In Mormonism, there are myriad persons that are one reptile (but they have become part of that reptile via experience). That reptile is the organizing force of the universe.”
I like how you state this. But I don’t think that’s how most Mormons think.
I appreciate your attempts with your equivocation on the word “alien,” but might I suggest you just stop right now. One of the undeniable positive points in favor or Joseph Smith is “He’s not L. Ron Hubbard.” Your line of reasoning is diminishing that positive point.
“I like how you state this. But I don’t think that’s how most Mormons think.”
Right, but as soon as you start discussing theology you have moved past the point of what most people think. I think the view is coherent with scripture and LDS thought. But, I am sure there are many that would see it otherwise.
Actually they generally are unified with one another at a higher level. Each level of individuality has a higher level of union…. For example in traditional Chinese religion yin and yang:
The Taijitu [yin and yang symbol] is one of the oldest and best-known life symbols in the world, but few understand its full meaning. It represents one of the most fundamental and profound theories of ancient Taoist philosophy. At its heart are the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary. The light, white Yang moving up blends into the dark, black Yin moving down. Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other through the constant flow of the universe.
And I hit Hindu monism earlier in this thread. Even for the Greek gods many of the great writers saw them as aspects of the divine distinct persons in one sense representations of a person in another. This of course is how one would normally make sense of the Trinity, were normative Christians not trying so hard to embrace nonsense. One of the things that is great about Joseph Smith is that he restored trinitarianism to its earlier form, a restoration that was successful a view of God that genuinely could have emerged in Middle Platonism where Jesus is to God the Father as sunlight is to the Sun. The father is not diminished from this emanation of light and the emanation is how the Sun relates to the earth.
So in short, yes the pagan gods were unified and quite likely they were unified in a way that represents the thinking in the early church.
” Even for the Greek gods many of the great writers saw them as aspects of the divine distinct persons in one sense representations of a person in another. This of course is how one would normally make sense of the Trinity, were normative Christians not trying so hard to embrace nonsense”
I disagree that pagan gods are unified in sense that Mormons consider exaltation a unification with God and Christ.
Almost all of these traditions hinge on a very particular definition of “unified” or “one” so I think its important not to generalize too much if you want to understand the distinctions.
It makes a big conceptual difference in how you talk about how God whether God unified with the universe. The Brahman is the Universe in a way that God the father is not. It would be heresy to say that the Trinity is unified with the universe simply because it was the source.
Of course there may be some interesting discussion about how some Hindu concepts are not inconsistent with Mormonism.
> “In Mormonism, there are myriad persons that are one reptile (but they have become part of that reptile via experience).”
That seems to assume that all exalted Gods in Mormonism join the same Godhead? Mormonism seems less clear than you on the matter — it has no official position on whether there are many Godheads in existence, or one giant Godhead which includes all exalted Gods.
Hmm… no official position, that is surprising.
Exaltation is described in the New Testament as becoming one with God, the Father in the same way Jesus did, as well as joining God on his throne and inheriting all that he has. As “joint-heirs” we participate in the same inheritance, which I assume to be Godhood (not necessarily a particular Godhead).
“An alien is still a product of the capital “U” universe. He comes from some sort of pre-existing matter.”
That depends on whether we are talking about big “A” aliens or little “a” aliens.
I like it, Tim. I’ve only seen your latest, most-updated version, but I think you did a good job. It sounds like Brian J raised some useful points and clarifications were made.
I also agree with the point that David made above. No matter how careful you are in trying to summarize LDS doctrine, because you are an outsider, someone will correct you or insist that you’re getting it wrong on principle. Nothing to do but try to sort the reactionary corrections from the ones with real meaning and thoughtfulness behind them.
I guess I don’t really have major issues with the Mormonism illustration.
Couple points though:
1. Jehovah wasn’t exactly “the one” with the plan. It was God the Father’s plan. Jehovah was simply at one in mind and purpose with the Father from the beginning.
Also, under Mormon theology, I wouldn’t say the universe “produces” God the Father. Simply because there isn’t really a causal chain at all at the heart of Mormon theology.
OK, now that I’ve glanced through most of the comments and realized my point had already been made….
I would just wonder what exactly is wrong with “infinite regress” if indeed Mormon theology really does represent an infinite regress?
I just don’t really get why this concept is such a problem, I guess.
Seth R —
I’d even go further, lots of things becomes possible with an infinite regress that collapse on a finite one. The infinite chain, or circular chain makes possible all sorts of processes that if part of a finite chain would lead to absurdities. I tend to think of a one shot god as essentially displacing all the questions about the universe.
— Where did the universe come from, just changes into “where did God come from” and then the answer he has always existed. In which case why not just believe in a universe which has always existed.
— Why is there so much suffering, just changes into “why does God permit so much suffering”, etc….
Because it’s a paradox. The Universe has natural laws such as cause and effect, the infinite succession of causes can’t be traversed. God being outside the Universe has the power to not be subjected to the laws of the Universe. He is a cause that doesn’t require a cause. In the Mormon view, Heavenly Father is every bit subject to the laws of the Universe as everything else.
As CD-host points out, it may allow you to avoid some other questions whose answers may not be emotionally satisfying but it poses its own questions whose answers aren’t intellectually satisfying. It also poses its own emotionally dissatisfying answers like “God can’t do that, he’s not strong enough”. (the Classic Christian counterpart is “God can do it, but he chooses not to for some greater reason.”)
Tim: do you see the trinitarian view as avoiding all of those problems? i.e., it does not also produce emotionally and intellectually dissatisfying answers?
Also, maybe this isn’t what Seth meant, but how I read his question is to say that infinite regress is not wrong in the way that, say, logical fallacies are wrong. Meaning, it’s not that infinite regress doesn’t raise its own set of additional questions, it’s that conceptually the “impossibility” of infinite regress is no more (or less) inconceivable than the existence of something/someone that was never created. (In the latter part, I could be talking about the Trinity or the atheist view.)
Its certainly debatable that Infinite regress entails paradox. But, it is not necessary that the Trinity is the end cause. Perhaps the only reason to think that the Trinity is the end cause is to avoid dealing with CD Host’s question, i.e. whether there is a cause to the Trinity that also exists in that universe. I agree with CD, much of the extra-scriptural teaching about the Trinity is an attempt to avoid these sorts of questions.
Christian scholar William Lane Craig makes avoiding the problem of infinite regress a big part of his argument for why God is necessary.
However, the problem is that his “first and final cause” (God) doesn’t really act as a solution to the question of infinite regress. It merely punts on the question to some unknowable static being. But the problem of infinite regress is still lurking there behind the curtain. One simply rephrases the question:
“OK, so what caused God to create the universe?”
Craig might respond that nothing “caused” God to do so, it was just a “natural extension” of the unchangeable character of God.
But this doesn’t work either. Because a change certainly did happen. Namely, the character of God changed from “a being who does not create the universe” to “a being who creates the universe.”
What caused that change?
Infinite regress is not at all solved by a creator God – it’s merely obscured and taken off the table arbitrarily.
My problem with the strength of the infinite regress argument is that it depends on our logic, and on an incomplete picture of natural phenomena.
Instead of postulating an unmoved mover (something that is a essentially a logical construct) I can just as easily and acceptably postulate complex reasoning or natural phenomena that we don’t (or can’t) understand or haven’t developed yet that can “solve” the infinite regress problem with regard to an LDS-style God.
Either way we have an solution based on fiat rather than understanding.
Seth: “What caused that change?” I think the answer is that “God caused the change.” This, because God caused everything that is and is the uncaused cause. (I still think this is punting, but it at least answers Craig’s immediate question.)
Jared C: “the Trinity is an attempt to avoid these sorts of questions.” I think it’s a step before that. Specifically, we have to approach two separate questions: 1) the “uncaused cause” nature of God, and 2) the Trinity itself.
I think that the “uncaused cause” is an attempt to preserve God’s omnipotence in the strictest sense of the word. As Tim suggests above, any limits on God’s omnipotence are emotionally unsettling, so the believer gravitates toward a concept of God that avoids that discomfort. Now everything is in God’s hands and nothing can change him (except himself, of course).
Now, if you have an omnipotent God, then you can’t very well have hierarchy of any kind (temporal, authoritative, etc.) within God because that renders one person of God not omnipotent. The doctrine of the Trinity rescues the believer from this dilemma by positing co-eternity, homousia, etc.
“Either way we have an solution based on fiat rather than understanding.”
Or based on faith. In some sense. Maybe.
Believing and worshiping the Lizard in the first place comes from faith. All Abrahamic religions believe in some kind of lizard, and nobody really can fathom what that lizard is. I think we are talking about conceptual architecture that justifies our conception of the lizard (s). Perhaps many (most?) would still believe in the lizard if all of this burns to the ground and we are left without any way to reasonably explain what the lizard looks like, how many heads it has, the color of its scales, or whether there are ancestral lizards that produced the lizard we worship.
I don’t mind if someone wants to take the idea of an “unmoved mover/first and final cause” as a matter of faith.
But if they do so, they have just thereby forfeited any right to use the “infinite regress” argument against other belief systems.
Good job BrianJ. You’ve clearly have made some big efforts to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. You are right that the first question is if there is a monotheistic God who stands over all creation. The next question is if the Trinity fits that definition of God and if it is what the Bible is expressing.
The Trinity might not exist at all. But the evidence within the universe itself shows that it had a beginning, and we know beginnings had originators.
Here’s the issue Seth. The Universe is ordered by natural laws. It can’t escape cause-and-effect. God being supernatural isn’t subjugated to these laws. He not only created cause-and-effect, he created time itself. God is the kind of infinite that the word “before” has no meaning with. It’s a category fallacy to say “Who created God?” or to say “What caused God to do X?” God is THE creator, He is THE cause, He exists without qualification. To ask those questions is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of what kind of being we’re talking about.
Craig is not taking an infinite regress off the table arbitrarily. He’s saying that God doesn’t just solve the problem of an infinite regress, he takes the entire table away. He imagines God as something ENTIRELY other. God is so different even time and causation fall under him.
But all that really says Tim is that we can use natural laws like “cause and effect” to understand things – until we get to God – then natural laws are off the table.
And I just don’t see the advantage in saying that God is “other” than what we normally thinking about, as opposed to simply acknowledging that maybe the universe itself is completely “other” than what we normally think about it.
Thanks Tim. I think you meant that sincerely and not patronizingly 🙂 I’m actually planning some blog posts and a lesson at church on the Trinity so I’ve been trying to make sure I get it right. Plus, I think it’s a fascinating idea.
“But the evidence within the universe itself shows that it had a beginning, and we know beginnings had originators.”
Strictly speaking, yes. At the singularity, there was no space or time, so only after that was there a “beginning.” But that’s a stretch of the evidence from physics. Since we don’t know how anything works when it is in a timeless state, we can’t say what kind of forces might have acted upon or within that dense mass to cause the Big Bang.
In other words, using physics to support the Trinity is kind of like mixing metaphors.
A remarkably apt summary of Mormon thought.
If the universe is truly other then you can chuck science out the window. Because if it is truly other, then you cannot understand it empirically. And nowtjust weird stuff like pulsars and black holes; since everyday stuff like puppies and rocks also makes up the universe, it too is completely other, and there is no hope of understanding it.
Nobody uses physics to support the Trinity. I think most Christians would agree with Aquinas that while physics gives evidence for God, the truths of the Trinity come wholly through revelation.
What David said.
And I was totally being sincere. When you explain it to another Mormon as well as I would have attempted to, you’ve done a good job.
Tim:You wrote: “The Trinity might not exist at all. But the evidence within the universe itself shows that it had a beginning, and we know beginnings had originators.”
I took “originators” at the end to very clearly refer back to “the Trinity” in the first sentence. And “the evidence within the universe” to be that which physics teaches (not meaning to leave other sciences out here, but biology, geology, et al don’t speak toward the origin of the universe). Hence, I just rearranged what I thought was your argument into: “the evidence within the universe, i.e., physics, shows that the universe had an originator, i.e., the Trinity.”
I can see, however, that I read you too closely, since you agreed with the statement: “Nobody uses physics to support the Trinity. I think most Christians would agree with Aquinas that while physics gives evidence for God, the truths of the Trinity come wholly through revelation.”
Allow me, then, to re-word what I wrote earlier: “In other words, using physics to support the
Trinityexistence of God is kind of like mixing metaphors.”
There’s just no telling what kind of creature could have existed “before” the Big Bang, or what kind of creature could come out of it—the Trinity, God, or extra-cosmic reptiles.
Of course you can. There is plenty of counter intuitive natural phenomena. That is one of the major advantages of positivism and empiricism, that intuition is checked by experiment and your thinking is adjusted based on reality. All the time we discover new weird aspects of the universe and then we build new models so they aren’t weird anymore.
Replace your argument for God removing the table with any other system, including an infinite regress. Saying it is a categorical error to ask is structurally no different than asserting it is a categorical error to ask how the infinite regress started. There is nothing non arbitrary about asserting the existence of a creator that has new properties.
God creates universe
God2 creates God1.
There is nothing to prove or disprove God2. The assertion about God2 creating God1 is no different then the assertion about God creates universe.
Regarding the OP. . .It seems to me that up close, God looks pretty much the same to most all of these groups. . .When Mormons, Protestants, Pagans, Jews, Rastas, Atheists experience God on earth they are going to have very similar experiences (God is no respecter of persons). So granted each of these groups may have a very different view of God in their heads, in their experiences they are getting the same kind of data. (Whether you think it as three headed lizard or one of many identical lizards, the real Lizard is all you are going to get.)
So, if those Mormons, Protestants, Pagans, Jews, worship and love that God that they know from their experience (rather than the God that the conceive in their heads) aren’t they, in fact, loving and worshiping the same God whether they believe Him to be a part of an infinite regress in another galaxy or completely outside the Universe, or Shiva?
I’ll grant that there’s evidence (although not conclusive) of a beginning, aka the Big Bang. But how do we know beginnings had originators? That seems to me to be an assumption as much as anything. I’m not convinced we can say that as a matter of logic or science; I don’t see where that kind of knowledge comes except through revelation.
The natural principle of cause and effect. Not to mention the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
Point #1: There aren’t any positivists around anymore.
Point #2: If you think the universe is wholly other, then neither positivism nor empiricism allows you to understand the wholly other.
I suspect you don’t know what it means to be wholly other, otherwise you never would have suggested this as a means of fixing the problem.
Neither of which work. Entropy is a property of the universe it doesn’t pre-exist the universe. It is hard to even conceive of what entropy looks like in a pre-universe: there is no energy, hence no energy available for work, hence rules governing the availability of energy for work are hard to imagine in that general context.
Similarly with cause and effect. The dimension of space time we perceive as time is a property of the universe, it doesn’t exist outside it. The origin of the universe is the origin of time as we think of it. We have no idea outside the universe what cause and effect looks like or if it even exists. What we do know is that there is no reason to suspect are concept of the directionality of time (which comes from entropy) would apply. So effects are just likely to induce causes as visa versa.
Further of course Mormon materialism, asserts a somewhat different definition of universe, as we mentioned above.
WTF? The point about the 2nd law of thermodynamics is simple. Disorder/entropy is increasing constantly, meaning the amount of usable energy in the universe is constantly decreasing. If the universe had existed for a infinite amount of time, then by now all of the usable energy in the universe would have dissipated. Since that’s obviously not the case, the universe has existed for a finite amount of time.
From there you have two options. Either something set it in motion, as in something set the universe in motion at the big bang. Or, you have to posit an eternal recurrence of big bangs and big crunches. Last time I checked there is not enough matter in the universe for option #2 to work, which is why scientists are looking for dark matter like crazy. If/when they find it, option #2 is viable.
Just to clarify, when I said beginnings have originaters I was merely restating cause and effect. I don’t think that statement reveals what kind of creator exists. But what ever it is, I’m calling it God.
Tim, David Clark: You can’t use the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, or any other current law of physics, to predict what set in motion the events of the Big Bang—or even if anything was required to set it in motion. Every one of those laws breaks down in the singularity. As stated by Stephen Hawking:
No time, no cause and effect, no 2nd Law, no beginning.
Tim: “Just to clarify, when I said beginnings have originaters I was merely restating cause and effect. I don’t think that statement reveals what kind of creator exists. But what ever it is, I’m calling it God.”
I kind of gathered that from earlier conversations with you. The importance you place on the Creator has always troubled me. Disregarding what I said above about the laws of physics and cause and effect, suppose that this original cause was nothing but a paramecium—not even a sentient being!—that just happened to nudge the infinitely dense pre-universe mass in just the right way. Still, you would call this thing God with a capital G and give it all the honor that entails. (The alternative which I favor is to only call “God” that which merits the title.)
(I just want to reiterate, in regards to my last paragraph, that I do not accept any discussion of cause and effect prior to the Big Bang. I only used it here for sake of discussion.)
Sounds wholly other to me. So different that you couldn’t ask questions like “what caused the cause?”
The term “God” (capital G) in my understanding is not like the term “king” or “honored one”. It’s not something that one can earn or be bestowed with. Ultimately it describes a powerful being outside of the universe that causes it to exist. Something with the power to create ex-nihilo, out of nothing.
If Jesus treats me better than all the other religious figures I’m not going to call him God just because of his kindness. God is not the nicest guy I can think of. God isn’t the religious figure that played the best game or figured out how to follow the rules. Ultimately a god that I merely like the best is an idol. It’s a reflection of me not Him.
So yes, if a non-sentient paramecium was the uncaused-cause, it would be correct to describe it as God. God = the uncaused-cause. God ≠ the thing I choose to honor. God is objectively outside of us whether we are around to recognize and honor Him or not.
God is something we describe, not something we define. I’m THRILLED that we’ve discovered that Jesus fits the description. That’s the good news the Bible is proclaiming.
I think you are forgetting the counter argument. 2nd law was being offered to counter an infinite regress, not a single created universe that existed infinitely. Your argument addresses the single created universe which is infinite. To counter that I’d mention that Mormon materialism asserts there are multiple types of energy, in particular a spiritual energy capable of having material effect (i.e. God can do stuff). In particular it is noted that God can introduce order (increase the enthalpy) into baryon matter. If you have agents increasing enthalpy you no longer have a closed system and entropy could be even decreasing over time. Mormons believe that the universe is becoming more ordered with time, i.e. entropy is experiencing a net decrease due to spiritual energy.
Now one can of course dismiss the existence of spiritual energy, argue God’s can’t do stuff, but that is an argument equally effective against normative Christianity and Mormonism.
Actually that is not true. There is far more than enough matter in the universe for #2 to work. It had to do (prior to a few decades ago) with the initial speed of escape of the universe. How fast did it start expanding.
In practice it turns out that the universe appears to be gaining energy from some source, the expansion is speeding up, the universe is still banging. And that’s what is driving the whole dark energy theory.
Actually the dark matter is coming from the fact that large objects seem to be exhibiting gravitational behavior as if they were much massive than they are. They are acting as if there was some extra mass trailing behind them interacting gravitationally but not electromagnetically. That has nothing to do with the question of universe expansion though, this is more seen at the galactic level.
“Sounds wholly other to me. So different that you couldn’t ask questions like “what caused the cause?” That’s exactly right. You can still ask those kinds of questions of course—Who made the Universe? Why are we here? etc.—but you can’t rely on physics to do so.
re God: What troubles me about your definition of God is that there is no (theoretical) distinction between “Creator” and God.” If we replace “paramecium” with something sinister, you still accept that thing as God—with all due honor, praise, and worship. Two thought experiments:
1) the Creator was guy who planned nothing more than to raise us up so it can torture us for eternity. He craves our sorrow. Sounds like a real Grade A Jerk, but since he made us he gets the glory. I would call that thing Creator, but never call it God.
2) the Creator was killed or destroyed by the process of creation—like a lab experiment that blew up in his face. In your understanding, God is dead.
Now, while I voice these concerns, I still agree with two points you make: the problem of idol worship, and the good news that God does, in fact, love us.
The fact that current laws of physics do not apply to the singularity that was the universe prior to the big bang tells us nothing about God, only about the universe. Once you start speculating about what is outside that singularity you are in “anything goes” territory. Conceivably there could be billions and billions of singularities that are exploding into universes as we speak. Postulating an unmoved-mover is just as reasonable as postulating billions of unmoved movers.
Your thought experiments don’t change anything for me.
If he’s malicious and wants our virgins thrown into a volcano, then we better do what we can not to piss him off.
If he’s dead, he’s still revered for what he did.
The bottom line is that any true and real Deity doesn’t need you to call him “God” for him to be God. YOU don’t define who God is. God is. You may not want to worship him or give him praise, goodness knows there are billions of people who acknowledge the existence of God but don’t worship Him, but with or without your acknowledgement He is who He is. A rose by any other name still smells as sweet.
To even use a capital “C” in the name Creator, is in the monotheistic sense, a sign that he is God. Mormonism being polytheistic I can understand how you think you can separate them. Heavenly Father in your worldview isn’t the creator of the capital U universe. He’s a deity with organizational control over your local universe. This at it’s very core is why Christians don’t accept Mormons as a part of their faith.
“The bottom line is that any true and real Deity doesn’t need you to call him “God” for him to be God. YOU don’t define who God is. God is.” I’m not arguing that point. I agree with it completely. My belief is that God gets to call himself God—with or without my approval—because he acts like God should; if he abused his power, he’d just be the Supreme Bully.
If God had chosen not to create anything, then in your view he would still be God but it would be nonsensical to call him “Creator.” He didn’t act like Creator so he isn’t Creator. I don’t see the problem going the other way around if the Creator doesn’t act like God.
I hope my initial point isn’t getting lost in just terminology. I don’t care what vocabulary you use—if you choose to see Creator and God as inseparable synonyms. Fine. What troubles me is that in a past thread (and again here) you say that it makes no difference what kind of being God is, he still gets revered. He still gets honor, praise, and glory. He still deserves our obedience—even if that obedience required us to be evil. So take the term “God” out of it and just use the term “Praised One” or whatever that allows you to (theoretically) separate the Creator from the person we worship.
“If he’s malicious and wants our virgins thrown into a volcano, then we better do what we can not to piss him off.” Yeah, sucks to be us because God is evil and worshiping him is purely selfish. (This is effectively like the idolatry problem you raised earlier. In idolatry, the God I like best is “a reflection of me not Him”; worship in this case is only self-serving. With the evil God, I worship out of fear for myself; i.e., worship in this case is also only self-serving.)
“If he’s dead, he’s still revered for what he did.” Even though “he” was a paramecium and did it completely by accident. I don’t see the reason to give eternal praise for past successes, let alone past accidents.
“Mormonism being polytheistic I can understand how you think you can separate them.” Yep. Although I think you’ve purposefully chosen the misleading term “polytheistic.” ftr, I believe that all exalted beings are one with God; I do not believe in separate universes or domains, and thus I do not accept polytheism (as some Mormons might).
“This at it’s very core is why Christians don’t accept Mormons as a part of their faith.” I know that. I don’t mean for that to sound snide, but I worry that if you think that is a new revelation for me then I have done a poor job of representing my thoughts. (Man, this still sounds really snide; I just mean it as double-checking our mutual understanding.)
Tim said: “To even use a capital “C” in the name Creator, is in the monotheistic sense, a sign that he is God. Mormonism being polytheistic I can understand how you think you can separate them.”
Monotheism does not require ex-nihilo creation by God. Is there a problem in principle with the one God and the Universe being co-eternal?
I did not use any law to show what happened at the beginning of the big bang. I merely showed that the second law shows that the age of the universe is finite, which Hawking also does.
I also agree with Hawking that at those sizes and energies all current physical laws break down and physics has nothing to say about the universe prior to Planck time. I’ll go one further than Hawking and predict that science cannot ever break through that boundary, at least not with any sort of empirical evidence. And yet, here we all are in a universe of a finite age. Since I don’t think science can breach that point, it seems like invoking Deity is at least suggestive, though not definitive. And since I think science is never going to explain the universe prior to Planck time, it seems one will always have to invoke faith on that point.
I think part of our miscommunication is that you equate the word “God” with “worthy of worship”. I equate it with “omnipotence, omnipresence and self-existence.”
In my understanding it doesn’t matter if you worship Him or think he’s worthy of worship. He is who He is and if he’s the only deity in the universe, He by very definition is God.
You don’t have to worship him in the way he requires. I don’t have to worship him in the way he requires. I just don’t see what choice we have when dealing with such a being. It seems to me the only appropriate response is to bend my knee. Others will claim it’s better to burn than to serve.
I suppose if God were truly malevolent he would have created us without the capacity to choose.
I don’t think our view of God so much starts with what he has done or what he will do as much as who we are in relation to Him. As the Bible says, the fear of God is the beginning of understanding. The fear of God is a recognition of who and what you are compared to who and what He is. The last half of Job is a great place to get some of this perspective.
No, I know you know. At least half of the time I’m crafting my response for the benefit of those who are lurking as much as the person I’m responding to.
I’d think that better corresponds with some sort of personified Pantheism. I know that’s more in line with Brian’s understanding of Mormon cosmology. But I don’t think it really fits what monotheist are talking about. Similarly, Henotheism (the specific worship of one god among many) may sound close enough for the henotheist, but the monotheist recognizes right off how different it is.
David Clark: “I did not use any law to show what happened at the beginning of the big bang. I merely showed that the second law shows that the age of the universe is finite, which Hawking also does.”
…and then used the finite age of the universe to insist on two options:
“From there you have two options. Either something set it in motion, as in something set the universe in motion at the big bang. Or, you have to posit an eternal recurrence of big bangs and big crunches.”
My point to you above, is that you can’t use any current law of physics to conclude whether or not anything was required to set the universe in motion, which is your “option one.”
Your “option two” is also not extrapolated from any current law of physics. Those laws can’t be used to determine whether or not a singularity can ever be generated again, which is your proposed cycle of bangs and crunches.
Thus, the laws of physics neither address nor support your two options.
“science cannot ever break through that boundary, at least not with any sort of empirical evidence.” I agree completely with this prediction….
“[therefore] it seems like invoking Deity is at least suggestive,” …but not this conclusion. I see nothing suggestive unless one brings the idea of Deity into the question. That’s presuppositive, not suggestive.
“it seems one will always have to invoke faith on that point.” …and I’m back to agreeing with you. It just happens that my faith and your faith differs on this point.
Tim: I’m glad that we can both see that we’ve been miscommunicating 🙂
“I think part of our miscommunication is that you equate the word “God” with “worthy of worship”. I equate it with “omnipotence, omnipresence and self-existence.””
Yes, and I’ll add to that. Another part of our problem is that we’re arguing about what is essential about God, but all the while we have a belief about what God really is. So it’s a bit incongruous for me to say that “you believe God could be a malicious paramecium” because I know that you don’t believe that God—the God that really exists outside of our discussion—really could ever bring himself to be evil; it is not in his nature. In other words, I equate God with much more than just worthiness, and you equate him with much more than just omnipotence.
I don’t know if there’s any way to salvage our conversation, but here’s an attempt. When I brought up this tangent, it was to highlight a difference between our two beliefs, namely that you place a much greater importance on the creation than I do. I erred in using the word “God” and would go back and change that now if I could. I never meant it to be a discussion of what makes God “God”—such as whether or not my worship makes him God. Rather, I meant to highlight that what motivates me to worship him is different than what motivates you. Specifically, I am motivated to worship him because he is good; you are motivated to worship him because he is powerful.
But see, even that is not correct because of the miscommunication problem I mention above. Because, in fact, you do believe that God is good and you rejoice because of it. And I do believe that God is powerful, and I rejoice because of it.
PS. I liked how you explained the crafting of responses for the benefit of the lurkers. That is what I suspected you were doing. I know you’re very careful here.
(Why is it taking out my “bold” html tags?)
The theme may prefer “strong” over “b”. I changed it for you in your last post.
Well I’m not a cosmologist, but my understanding is that as long the mass of the universe is a certain critical density, then gravity will cause the universe to collapse back on itself. This universe does not have that mass. Now, I grant that the velocity of expansion will be related to the critical density (I imagine the critical density would have to be higher given a higher velocity of expansion). But the fact remains, this universe doesn’t seem to have the critical density (i.e. there ain’t enough mass) to force a big crunch.
As for your other points, I will grant them out of ignorance on my part.
Again, I don’t see where I am doing that, other than assuming that since we are here now, and since a big bang happened, something caused the big bang. That could be the universe itself, random chance, a gremlin, or whatever. Hawking thinks so too, though the quote you cited contradicts this. Later in the article you linked to Hawking spends a paragraph or two talking about his latest theory (look for the parts on imaginary time). The point is to, in his words, “determine the state of the universe uniquely” while still holding that “the universe would be a completely self-contained system.” As I understand it, he is looking for a solution to avoid breakdown of physical laws (at least in a mathematical sense) which would allow for a determination of the initial states of the universe. If he really thought all causality broke down, then he wouldn’t be going that route. Using the terminology I gave, Hawking is going for option #1 with the cause being a property of a self contained universe. Given the data that there isn’t going to be a big crunch, and given Hawking’s atheism, this is the only viable option.
In any case, have at it, I’m on vacation for the next week and a half.
It is LDS doctrine that individuals are eternal:
“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29)
“if there be two spirits…these two spirits…have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.” (Abr 3:18)
So if you want to draw a picture, you pretty much have to include all individuals at the top and add dotted lines connecting them to their embodied incarnations. Given the evidence in the canon, plus the weight of the KFD, no other view can claim a consensus.
I’m coming in a bit late to this conversation, but whatever… Here are my 2 cents:
I love the illustration and the reptiles. On the Mormonism thing, I don’t see where you are getting that the Universe precedes or produces God. There is nothing in our scriptures anywhere that indicates that God was produced by the Universe, instead it is the other way around, that He created all things in the Universe. So, why do you have it in reverse?
The heavenly Mother thing also is unscriptural. There is nothing, anywhere, in the Mormon scriptures, that refers to a heavenly Mother. In the Bible we find, in the Hebrew, that the Holy Ghost is feminine, or a female Personage, but that doesn’t equate to She being our heavenly Mother.
Also, although you didn’t mention it in the graphic (yet it seems implied by the pinkness, etc.), there is nothing in the scriptures that refers to “goddesses.” God or a god is always called God or god, never goddess. Even in D&C 132, where the doctrine of becoming angels and gods is unfolded, men and women are both said to become gods, not gods and goddesses. In other words, an exalted female is stated as becoming a god, not a goddess. Food for thought.
Is God the only thing that is self-existent, or is his essence made from elements found in a self-existing universe? Were there gods before him?
Tim, in order to answer your first questions, regarding self-existence, I need to first understand what you mean by “self-existent” and “self-existing.” Now, my dictionary defines self-existence as:
Existing, as God, of or by himself, independent of any other being or cause.
If that is your definition of self-existence, then I can proceed to answer your questions, with some alteration.
Q: “Is God self-existing?”
A: No. There is no evidence whatsoever that God is self-existent, for He does all things through covenants, including the creation acts, which bind Him down to all things. This is why the scripture says, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” A self-existent Being, independent of all things, cannot be bound in any way, including through covenants or contracts. This is also why the scripture says that if mercy robbed justice, or if the works of justice would be destroyed, “God would cease to be God. The covenantal relationship God has with all things does away with His self-existent nature. He now exists for us, not for Himself.
Q: “Is God the only thing that is self-existent?”
A: As not even God is self-existent, then nothing else is either. All things are bound by covenant to Him. This is the nature of the created Universe, meaning it exists through covenants to God.
Q: “Is His essence made from elements found in a self-existing universe?”
A: Nothing in the Universe is self-existing, including God, therefore when the scripture says, “the elements are the tabernacle of God,” it means that, like all other things, this is a covenantal relationship, and therefore neither party is independent.
Q: “Were there gods before Him?”
A: In 1839, Joseph Smith wrote of “a time to come in which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.” So, the answer to this question has not been given in any revelation, as yet. The psalmist and Jesus both stated, “Ye are gods.” Nevertheless, as the scripture says, “as there be gods many, and lords many, but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” And that is the important thing.
Hi LDS Anarchist,
You seem quite knowledgeable in LDS stuff.
I have a question. The LDS teaches that Jesus was born of heavenly parents, right? Does this mean he is a created being?
If not, did he exist as truth and light before his birth? I’m somewhat unclear on this stuff.
LDS doctrine is found only in our scriptures, the four books we call the standard works. Apart from those books, you will find every conceivable idea of doctrine available for man to speculate on. Every LDS is free to speculate on things that aren’t specifically spelled out in the scriptures, or are only hinted at, in any way they want, because we have no set creeds that we must believe. Such speculation has occurred on every level of the church, top to bottom. So, you will find latter-day saints teaching and believing all sorts of things, with this group of LDS teaching something completely contradictory to what that group of LDS are teaching. Nevertheless, the only LDS doctrine is found only in the standard works, which is why we call them the standard works, being the standard, or the word of God, by which we are to measure everything else.
Only canonized revelations of God are binding upon the LDS as the word of God. Everything else that comes from any quarter, may, or may not, be inspired of God, to be determined by the individual as he inquires of the Lord himself and receives personal revelation to discern truth from error.
However, as the latter-day saints are largely a lazy bunch, relying upon their leaders for everything, many such speculations have entered and remained in the church as traditions, and are accepted by many as the absolute truth, despite the fact that there is no little to no scriptural basis for the ideas, and no one has ever inquired of the Lord concerning them and received revelation. For many, that poses no problem, for if a man speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, he may be given new information that adds to our light and knowledge, or that unfolds doctrine found in the scriptures, and many LDS just assume that their leaders are receiving revelation, even if the members are not, and so accept the teaching as fact. Nevetheless, none of such extra-scriptural musings and beliefs are binding upon any of the LDS, and even if the majority of members believe it, it does not constitite LDS doctrine.
So, one of the speculations is on the origins of God. Do the standard works reveal the origins of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost? No, they do not. Instead, we get descriptions of deity such as “without beginning of days or end of years.” Do the scriptures speak of a heavenly Mother? No, they do not. But based upon the two-parent pattern of life, the scriptures and the temple ceremonies, many people have just naturally assumed that there must be a heavenly Mother, meaning heavenly Parents. Has this been revealed by God in a revelation and submitted to the members for canonization? No. This is just one of the many speculations found among the membership which is just assumed to be true, despite a lack of any explicit statement in the scriptures.
Some of these speculations and assumptions become so general among the membership, that they begin to be taught from the pulpit, in church publications and even the missionaries are instructed to teach them to investigators during the discussions. Now, this doesn’t mean that such teachings are inherently false. Some, many, or even most of such speculative teachings may, in fact, be true. But that is besides the point, the point being that such teachings are extra-scriptural and thus non-binding upon the membership.
So, anyway, to answer your questions… I don’t think I, or any LDS, need to defend the speculations of any other LDS, just as you should not have to defend the speculations of any Christian, right? Speculations are speculations and should be treated as such. That said, there is nothing in the LDS standard works that teaches that Jesus was born of heavenly Parents, (assuming you are not referring to His birth in Bethlehem.) So, if you are unclear about this stuff, it is because everyone is unclear on it, because none of it has been revealed, as yet, and everything you hear about it, from any quarter, be it from a Mormon or a Christian, is mere speculation on their part.
Thanks, LDS Anarchist.
One reason I’m unclear about the origin of Jesus as taught in the LDS is that the 1996 edition of “Gospel Principles” differs slightly from the 2009 edition when it comes to this issue. (I’m not complaining about the difference. I’m glad about it because I take it as an indication that the LDS is slowly letting some of their controversial doctrines fade away.)
In the 1996 edition of “Gospel Principles,” p. 11 (the first page of the second chapter), it says, “Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ (D&C 93:21).”
The 2009 edition of “Gospel Principles,” p. 9 (the first page of the second chapter), says, “Every person who was ever born on earth is our spirit brother or sister,” then it completely leaves out the part about Jesus being the first born to our heavenly parents, though it does quote Joseph Smith in the preceding paragraph saying that “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents . . . prior to coming upon the earth. . . .”
I’m glad LDS leaders removed an explicit reference to Jesus being born of heavenly parents, but still, Jesus would be included when it says, “Man . . . was born of heavenly parents,” since he is a man. Isn’t that true?
I’m left hanging. Does the LDS still teach that Jesus had a beginning—as a person at least? Or have they forsaken that teaching?
I don’t care whether something is in LDS Scripture or not. My question is, “What does the LDS teach?” If it’s in “Gospel Principles,” it’s taught.
(As you may remember, I’m not looking for an excuse to condemn the LDS. I’m looking for ways to defend it. I already know you believe in the real Jesus—the only one who died on a cross 2,000 years ago to set us free.)
God bless . . .
This approach to determining what doctrine or revelations “are binding upon the LDS as the word of God” is not itself found in the standard works.
Kullervo, what brings you back on the scene? Looking for trouble, eh?
Ah, well, in that case, as it seems that your standard of “what is taught by the LDS” is anything that is published by the corporate LDS Church, then I recommend that you go to http://www.lds.org and consult with all the published manuals, general conference addresses, the Ensign, New Era and Liahona magazines, etc. There is also a search function there that you can use.
None of that is doctrine, but they are, nonetheless, teachings (interpretations), which is what you are after.
If you want to know what current LDS church doctrine is, just go to scriptures.lds.org and read the canon.
Btw, Gospel Principles has no listed author, and was likely written by a some church committee. Some people take its words as divinely inspired because it is an “official” publication of the corporate LDS Church, as if it miraculously appeared at the church office building as an immaculate publication or was dictated through a Urim and Thummim. Others see it for what it is: the best a group of men and women could do to assemble scriptural interpretations that have traditionally been found among many latter-day saints.
Also, btw, I didn’t take what you wrote as an attack. When I wrote, “I don’t think I, or any LDS, need to defend the speculations of any other LDS,” I meant that the teachings found among the latter-day saints, including those published by the corporate church, only constitute interpretations, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion on things. If you ask me what I think of this or that, I can answer you, but I don’t feel qualified to say what others think or believe.
This is where books like Gospel Principles become problematic. Just because it is found in Gospel Principles, does this mean I believe it? Nope. The words in Gospel Principles represent the thoughts of those who wrote it, who are unnamed persons. Some LDS may agree or disagree with parts or all of it. The same principle applies to every person and publication in this church, regardless of his or her title. If so-and-so said or wrote such-and-such, it is merely his or her opinion on the matter.
This principle is found in the following scriptures:
So, LDS church doctrine is that there are to be no titles of nobility in this church. Nevertheless, as this life is a probationary state, the Lord leaves us to our own devices, to see if we will obey Him, and many in the church have made the various priesthood titles “honors of men,” treating those with the right title as celebrities, and their words as more authoritative, because of their titles. But doctrinally, everyone is on the same footing.
LDS Anarchist, you described “Gospel Principles” as “the best a group of men and women could do to assemble scriptural interpretations.”
Isn’t it at least reviewed and approved by LDS Apostles?
You said, “The teachings found among the latter-day saints, including those published by the corporate church, only constitute interpretations.”
Yes. But if you wanted to know for example what the Methodist church believes, would you simply go to the Bible or would you go to their official interpretations of the Bible? I find the teachings of the Book of Mormon to be more in line with evangelical theology than Mormon theology, so if I consulted the Book of Mormon to see what the LDS believes, I’d be misled!
That’s just it. In the LDS church, there are no “official” interpretations, other than canonized interpretations. So, for example, if you go to D&C sections 77 and 113, you’ll find official interpretations which have been canonized. Unless something has been canonized, it ain’t an official interpretation.
Just because an LDS apostle reviews and approves material published by the corporate LDS Church, (assuming that that happens), doesn’t make it any more official than if a latter-day saint who wasn’t an ordained apostle approved it. The title “apostle” means nothing, or carries no more weight or authority in being a correct interpretation, than does the title “deacon” or a latter-day saint who has no more title than “saint.” No latter-day saint will be judged by how closely they followed the words written in the book Gospel Principles or the words of any man or group of men with impressive titles. They will be judged solely according to the word of God, found in the scriptures. The Lord doesn’t care about how closely you followed an interpretation, but how closely you conformed your life to His word.
Now, from time to time the First Presidency, the highest functioning quorum in the church, will put forth a letter, with an “official” interpretation. Is it binding upon the membership? Nope. It is the best three men with high sounding titles can come up with. If, however, it is canonized, then that changes the situation.
Let me refer you to two blog posts I once wrote about this issue, for it deals with the priesthood and the priesthood keys. Now, even my words are an interpretation, but you can determine for yourself whether it makes any sense to you:
An alternate view of the keys
I have relatively non-traditional LDS views, by the standards of the 1960s at least, but I have to say that the view that LDS Anarchist has expressed about the relative authority of LDS apostles is outside the Mormon mainstream, as his moniker might well lead one to conclude in any case.
The First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles are the teaching authority in the church. When they come to a consensus position, publish it, and actively maintain it, it bears as much practical authority as anything in the canon. Any such position is an _official_ position or teaching of the church, even if it is not a canonical one. The institutional church does not have unofficial positions, doctrines, or teachings. Anything that is unofficial isn’t a teaching of the church at all.
The practical difference between an apostolic consensus and canonical doctrine, is that for a variety of reasons the teaching and instruction of the church might change through time, but the canon rarely does. So there is always a trend in teaching and interpretation back in the direction of the canon. If something is so important that it needs to be added to the canon, at the very least it will be published as an official statement or proclamation under the signatures of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Two of those statements, Official Declaration 1 and Official Declaration 2 have themselves been canonized, by inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants of the church.
this is a recipe for anarchy!
What the FP and 12 sign their names to is only representative of themselves and the corporate LDS Church, it is not binding upon the membership of the LDS church. A member can choose to believe the interpretation, or choose not to. Before a person is baptized, no one is presented with all the FP letters that have been written over the years, but they are presented with the standard works. Only the standard works are binding upon the membership. This is because all things must be done by common consent in the church. FP letters are not voted on in the church. They are just written and sent out. If they people wish to follow that counsel and interpretation, that is their privilege. If they wish to canonize it, they can do that, too. But one group of saints lifting up a document signed by the FP and 12 as holy scripture does not bind another group of saints to the document. This is what canonization is for: the binding of the saints down to a written word that they have covenanted to obey.
It is anarchy, which is why almost no one actually believes that. What many people do rightly believe is that members of the church have the right to gain their own testimony, by the witness of the Holy Spirit, that the teachings of the leaders of the church are true, and the right to decide for themselves how to implement them in their own lives. It is a matter of agency.
But so far as the actual institutional teaching and practice are concerned, a First Presidency statement is the practical equivalent of scripture, and indeed may supersede scripture for the next generation at least, and possibly further, depending upon the consensus of their successors in that position.
I saw what you did there.
Who did what?
I might add that I take a less formal view of the binding of anything except the witness of the Holy Spirit than LDS Anarchist seems to. I don’t feel necessarily bound – so far as my own personal beliefs are concerned – by anything in the canon until and to the degree that I gain a witness that some particular teaching or another contained within is the inspired word of God in every practical respect.
Now of course as a practical matter, if I were to actively oppose the institutional church in its very fundamentals, or violate by my own behavior fundamental moral standards of the church, or teach precepts in church forums, under the aegis of church authority, contrary to the teachings of the church, or in public forums contrary to the most basic teachings of the church, I would fully expect to be subject to church discipline.
But any covenants I make are strictly speaking with God, and not with the interpretations or determinations of mortal men, except to the degree that they fully and fairly reflect divine inspiration and revelation on the matter, which I believe that in the large they actually do. Otherwise I couldn’t be a faithful member of the church. One does not have to believe that the scriptures are inerrant or that the leaders are infallible to be a member in good standing. But a fundamental loyalty to the church and a witness of the divine guidance of the leadership of the church is essential.
There are millions of LDS. In my experience with a very limited number of them (compared to millions), their views are very varied on a great number of subjects, as shown by the comments on this post by LDS. This is why I said, “If you ask me what I think of this or that, I can answer you, but I don’t feel qualified to say what others think or believe.” I do not pretend to know what the entire membership, or even the majority of the membership, thinks about any particular doctrinal interpretation. A LDS woman (hawkgrrrl) once said, “You can correlate the manuals, but you can’t correlate the contents of people’s heads.”
Absolutely true. That’s why so many LDS wards ordained blacks to the priesthood pre-1978, because there is nothing in the canon that specifically says blacks cannot have the priesthood. Sure, the First Presidency interpreted the Book of Abraham and past statements of Brigham Young that way, but there’s nothing in the canon that specifically forbids the ordination of blacks to the priesthood.
That’s also why so many LDS wards ordain women to the priesthood as well, because there is nothing in the canon specifically prohibiting it. First Presidency wishes and church policies are just helpful guidelines that LDS members are free to ignore, because they are not in the canon.
That’s also why so many LDS temple presidents let non-members in to witness weddings. There’s nothing in the LDS canon that prohibits non-members from entering LDS temples.
I understand what you’re saying, LDS Anarchist. To quote someone else, “I saw what you did there.”
Thanks to Mark D. and Jared C., I know where you got your name now, too!
David, so if there’s nothing in the canon that says Mormons can’t read non-Mormon material, how come I have the hardest time getting my local Mormon friend to read a non-Mormon book?
So Tim doesn’t reprimand me for getting off topic, here’s a quote from an official unofficial LDS book on the nature of God:
“God is the Almighty Ruler of the universe. God dwells in heaven. (see D&C 20:17). Through His Son, Jesus Christ, He created the heavens and the earth and all things that are in them” (Gospel Principles, 5).
Cal, you do know I was being sarcastic, don’t you? As to why can’t you get your local Mormon friend to read a non-Mormon book, it’s because Mormons are in general encouraged only to read church approved materials.
Which is why the Church is like the army of Mormonism. Not necessarily dedicated to any of revelations of prophets or leaders, including Joseph Smith, but focused on whatever mission the current leadership thinks is appropriate. This is why it can make drastic policy turns and maintain coherence. It is also why it can be anti-intellectual and artificially rigid in its practices.
This is replacing one artificial line for another. If the Spirit tells you that something was wrongly canonized, why would it be binding on you?
Because of the principle of common consent. See the above linked post on the keys of the priesthood for a more in depth treatment of that. Also, I’ve written other articles on my blog specifically on common consent. Just use the search function there for “common consent” or choose the “Common Consent” category or click here and consult the Common Consent section of my articles. There have been a lot of posts published by me, as well as other authors, on this topic at the LDS Anarchy blog.
The examples you used were in reference to the priesthood keys, or how the priesthood is authorized in the church. Those examples don’t apply to what we were talking of, which were of church teachings/beliefs. The priesthod leadership have total control over the priesthood keys, whose keys are activated and whose keys are suspended, etc. Also, they have total control over the temples. That said, the keys of the church also come into play, but currently, the church keys authorize all priesthood keys, so, essentially, the priesthood leadership can do what they want with the priesthood. See the priesthood keys article hyperlinked above for more info, if you want.
The church is not a secular government. It does not exercise coercive power. That is why the term _binding_ overstates the case. I am not bound to the plan of salvation, for example, I am led, enticed, cajoled, persuaded. We do not believe that the priesthood can legitimately be exercised by coercive means, nor do we believe that God himself operates that way except as a last resort.
“Know this that every soul is free, to choose his life and what he’ll be;
for this eternal truth is given, that God will force no man to heaven.”
That is what we believe. We believe that any attempt to exercise compulsion by virtue of the priesthood causes the heavens to withdraw, and nullifies the priesthood of that individual. It is that important.
We are bound to Christ and His word through our covenants to obey His commandments.
A yoke is: “a mark or emblem of subjection, submission, humiliation, or servitude; hence, servitude; slavery; bondage; service. In antiquity, the Romans and others made captured foes pass under a symbolic yoke consisting of a spear resting horizontally upon two upright ones.” Matt. xi 30 is given as an example of this shade of meaning in the dictionary.
The yoke of Christ is voluntarily entered into, not coerced slavery. It is voluntary slavery or service. We voluntarily bind ourselves to the cross of Christ.
In fact, the priesthood itself has, as a primary function, the binding and loosing of things on earth, through written records (the written word of God) which saints of God have covenanted to obey.
I do not wish to expound upon this topic, since I think we’ve thread-jacked this post quite enough, but I’ll just say that this is why the Lord says:
LDS Anarchist, that is true, to the degree we know what those commandments are. The degree which we are bound to the common consent of a religious society is another matter entirely.
“We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.” (D&C 134:10)
I did not think to say more, but what the heck. What you wrote got my brain working, so here it goes…
A covenant is “an agreement between two or more persons or parties, or one of the stipulations in such an agreement.” For example, “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant.” (1 San. xviii.3.)
In theology, a covenant is also “the promises of God as revealed in the Scriptures, conditioned on certain terms on the part of man, as obedience, repentance, faith, etc.” For example, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Gen. xvii. 7.)
Now, to covenant (the intransitive verb) is “to agree (with); to enter into a formal agreement; to bind one’s self by contract; to make a stipulation.” For example, “And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.” (Matt. xxvi.15.)
So, then we have the Lord saying, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” The Lord, representing one party to the covenant, bind’s Himself to fulfill the promises of the covenant if we keep our part of the covenant (which is to do what He says.) Likewise, if the Lord keeps His part of the covenant, we are also bound to our part of the covenant. Now, since the Lord always keeps His part of the covenant, we are bound the instant we enter the covenant.
So, if you have entered into the gospel covenant, you are bound to do what He says. Now, what does the Lord say concerning the law of common consent? To do “”all things by common consent in the church.” If you do not do what He says and do all things by common consent, you break the covenant by which you are bound.
In other words, per your gospel covenant, you are bound to obey all the revealed laws of the gospel, which we have written in our canon, including the law of common consent.
Boy — Mark D. … talk about leading to anarchy. You wrote:
What’s the variability in something like, “members of the church have the right to gain their own testimony, by the witness of the Holy Spirit, that the teachings of the leaders of the church are true, and the right to decide for themselves how to implement them” — has both Glenn Beck and Harry Reid taken your approach? Have both the literal history vs. inspired fiction crowds [for the Book of Mormon and of Abraham] gained their own testimony by the witness of the Spirit?
But wait — there’s more:
So wait — an LDS is under no obligation whatsoever to the LDS standard works? Just because of their “own personal beliefs“. Holy Moly. They’re a pretty crappy standard if they can’t inform behavior — am I right?
One more gem Mark D.:
So — the institutional church, its behavioral and moral traditions, and its precepts — you appear to feel more bound to these things than the standard works of the church [which you can take or leave based on how you feel at the time].
Lol — “it is anarchy, which is why [I wouldn’t] actually believe that.“
Absolutely true. That’s why so many LDS wards ordained blacks to the priesthood pre-1978, because there is nothing in the canon that specifically says blacks cannot have the priesthood. [SNIP] That’s also why so many LDS wards ordain women to the priesthood as well, because there is nothing in the canon specifically prohibiting it. [SNIP] That’s also why so many LDS temple presidents let non-members in to witness weddings. There’s nothing in the LDS canon that prohibits non-members from entering LDS temples.
And why so many Mormons drink beer. The standard works allow for the use of mild barley drinks (D&C 89:17), and only the standard works are binding on the membership. So drinking beer is not a problem in Mormonism.
Ain’t that the truth. I know a lot of Mormons that drink beer. And I know some that drink wine, too (for the sacrament.) And that use strong drink (vodka) to wash their bodies. But I don’t know of any that use tobacco for sick cattle…
That is what we believe. We believe that any attempt to exercise compulsion by virtue of the priesthood causes the heavens to withdraw, and nullifies the priesthood of that individual. It is that important.
I think you are agreeing with the Anarchist on this. . . in practice the church has, at times, compelled members to teach a limited viewpoint in church meetings and do not organize religious practice outside of the church sphere. . . . otherwise Mormons start heading toward the gentile Protestant model, shop for the preacher you like the best (heaven forbid!)
I know a lot of Mormons that drink beer.
I do, too. They’re known as “jack Mormons.”
My wife wants to know if they’re female — do you call them “jill Mormons” or do you call them “Ms. jack Mormons” [Mrs. jack Mormons if they’re married]?
Justin, you appear to just be making up what I am trying to convey here, so I don’t really see how I can give any sort of productive reply. Suffice to say you appear to have semi-intentionally blurred more important distinctions than I can easily count.