Notes on the possibility of a profitable dialogue between Mormons and Protestants

This is a response to Gundek’s suggestions regarding the way forward in my project to create a profitable LDS/Evangelical dialogue. ¬†(Again, I didn’t edit this much and it might be a bit too repetitive, so please read charitably. ūüôā )

Like I have said earlier, I really don’t know much about being a converted Protestant, but I know that I now see something now that I didn’t see as a believing, spiritually minded¬†Latter-day Saint. ¬†I am starting with the Light of Christ because the LDS will have no problem acknowledging that whatever truth I did find, it was not from an¬†experience with the Holy Ghost, or from the Gift of the Holy Ghost. ¬†This is important because I am not LDS anymore and I want to be clear that whatever think about salvation does not threaten the LDS tradition because it comes outside of LDS covenants and outside of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. ¬†Mormonism is, by definition, the religion that is revealed outside of the understanding available through the Light of Christ, i.e. the Spirit of God, that those outside the Church have access to.

The Light of Christ seems a great place to start my dialogue with the LDS tradition because within the LDS tradition, whatever light and knowledge I have found must have come through the Light of Christ.  By couching my understanding in terms of the Light of Christ, it side-steps all LDS revelation and tradition, and tries to go to the root of what non-LDS see in God that Joseph Smith may have taken for granted, or simply failed to grasp.  It is no knock on Joseph Smith to claim that he did not understand the full nature of the Light of Christ, because the Light of Christ encompasses all knowledge.

In some ways I am trying to reverse-engineer my conversion process, restating the ideas that pushed me over the edge. The problem with this approach is that¬†¬†that once I began to recognize the reality of law and the reality of grace, and then feel the joy that this recognition brought, all kinds of ideas started clicking together to the point that I didn’t know precisely what convinced me, and how to explain why the argument was inescapable.

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The facts of language and spiritual experience.

“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”

Wittgenstein’s philosophy confirmed a simple fact that was pretty clear when I was a child, but became cloudier over the course of my education: i.e. the meaning of the words I use is not a matter of my private experience, even if all of my experience is private.

In fact, it is often impossible for me to adequately explain the meaning of many of the words I use, even though I somehow know what they point at, and how to use them.

It seems to me that human¬†language is the same kind of fact as¬†the whistling of beavers building their dams and living their lives. The whistles come to them through their senses, hit their brains, and then – they behave like beavers and build dams. What is the meaning of a particular¬†whistle? ¬†It creates a particular attitude in a beaver. ¬†What are the meaning of words? The attitude that is invoked¬†in the hearer.¬†The whistling is a fact other than the beaver because the whistles change the facts of the world as other beavers react to the¬†¬†influence of the whistling beaver’s attitude. Continue reading

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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