How accurate are your myths? –The Curious Case of Transubstantiation

In a friendly effort to get my friend SlowCowboy to eat his words regarding the importance of the doctrine of transubstantiation, I also want to present my case for a “Great Apostasy” during the very earliest history of the church.

There was quite a bit of discussion about  transubstantiation because Gnostic Docetists were being theologically cast out for taking the doctrine of transubstantiation too seriously. They didn’t take the bread and the water because they did not believe that Christ could be present in the bread and water because Christ was completely separate from the world. The doctrine that the bread and the water were also the Christ makes a very deep philosophical (not spiritual) point that the Gnostics Docetists were not getting. i.e. that the substance of Christ was before us and actually present, even inside of us.  This is perhaps a stronger point than “the Kingdom of God is in our midst” but it is really quite breathtaking as far as theology goes. The doctrine of transubstantiation allowed people to explain their faith accurately to pagan peoples.

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Me & Gentiles: the Existentialists

existentialismAfter reading existentialists, Mormonism seemed like a radically existentialist theology.

Like anything grown in America, Mormonism emerged in a climate of rebellion and turmoil. Springing from a backwoods boy, growing up near the spearhead of the industrial revolution in America, self-educated, proud, visionary, it lashed out against every orthodoxy in sight, it embraced the most dangerous heresies. 

It this way, Mormonism seems a massive existentialist project. ‘Existentialism’ names not a way of thinking, but a group of thinker: some Christian (like Pascal, Dostoevsky, and Kierkegaard) some post-Christian (like Heidegger and Sartre), and some anti-Christ, like Nietzsche.

Walther Kaufmann, described existential philosophers in terms that are easily analogized to how early Mormons viewed themselves as religious thinkers:

Existentialism is not a philosophy, but a label for several widely different revolts against traditional philosophy. . . The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life—that is the heart of existentialism.

Swap out “existentialism” with “Mormonism” and “theology” for “philosophy” and it seems we have an observation as insightful as Kaufmann’s.   As a philosophical term, existentialism is nearly useless for lack of precision, but it points to a frame of mind reminiscent of Joseph Smith’s.

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