Friday, July 23, 2010

faith, knowledge and the art of confusion 2

Let it be known to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, this will read like a polemic, but it is not intended to be (overly) offensive. Unable to share my thoughts with anyone on issues that I have surrounding the church of my youth, I have resorted to talking to myself on the internet. Heaven have mercy...

Am I a Son Of Perdition? Most, except those closest to me, would argue no. Have I committed the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost? An iniquity more egregious than any combination of sex and or violence conceivable (not even virtuoso evil pricks like Stalin, Hitler, or even George Bush have achieved this level of depravity). Not yet. In the mormon cosmological model, there is a special place reserved for these SOPs, the only true and living version of hell ominously called Outer Darkness.

To qualify you have to of course deny Mr. fancy pants look-at-me-I-can-turn-into-a-dove himself. Can you feel the spirit brother? It's a Holy Ghost party up in here. Umm, yeah, the Holy Ghost there's no denying him, but to even attempt such a rash and despicable act you have to first know that the mormon church is true. Joseph Smith described this as looking at the sun (which might make you blind), and denying that it shines, or crucifying the good Lord once again, even while knowing he's the chosen Messiah. That's what it comes down to, you have a sure knowledge that Jesus is Jesus and then you go all Judas Iscariot, on his godly ass. That'll get you a one way ticket to mormon hell my friend.

Now, it's generally accepted that you have to really know, like Generally Authority know*, that the Church is true with absolute certainty to even have the opportunity to become a SOP. Like Jesus has to take a time out from his busy schedule of basking in the eternal worship of his angel sycophants, descend from his throne of glory, and confirm that your calling and election has been made sure by personally delivering your VIP pass to the celestial kingdom, while the Holy Ghost sears a powerful witness of these events into your very soul. It's no easy feat getting into outer darkness let me tell you. You've got to be worthy of heaven, if you want to go to hell.

Most of us fail to attain the aforementioned level of knowing, by which I mean really knowing. For the rank and file members (and probably the overseeing patriarchy as well, although they'd probably never openly admit it) testimony baring is a culturally acceptable form of consolation; a statement professing knowledge of the truthfulness of God, Jesus, the church, Joseph Smith etc. It's the old fake it till you make it gambit, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It's a perfectly acceptable form of learning. The question is how many actually make it? You know, gain a sure knowledge of the truth, enough to make them eligible to be condemned to Outer Darkness if they ever fall? Ask any honest mormon and they'll tell you not many if any. Am I a SOP? Hell, no. I only ever believed the church was true, even though I said I knew as much (possibly like everyone else? Hello, emperor, nice clothes you've got there). Belief 0r faith is not the equivalent of certainty, of that I am certain.

*General Authority n. Old mormon guy who resides in the upper echelon of the mormon hierarchy. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here, but Boyd K. Packer has hinted that a GAs testimony is no different than a standard members.



Andrew S said...

Fwiw, I don't even think that most GAs have such a knowledge to be eligible for being SoP.

Loren said...

Yeah me too, I was just trying to be nice

Justin said...

Regarding some of your comment on equating faith with knowing. Faith has been defined in scripture as imperfect knowledge. Loren, there are people that have met you, people who know you, and people that know you very well... various shades, but probably not perfect knowledge. To say that "I know" (translated "I have knowledge"?) is not invalid just because the knowledge is not perfect.

Regarding Son of Perdition thing. I may not have thought about this in enough detail, but in D&C (forget the chapter) we read that Telestial, Terrerstrial and Celestial glories/bodies recieve different degrees of God's presence. Celestial includes presence of the Father (and I assume the other two members of the Godhead), the Terrestrial includes presence of the Saviour, and the Telestial has the presence of the Spirit/Holy Ghost. And Outer Darkness, well... completely devoid of God's presence, including the Spirit's. So the outcome is various degrees of God's presence depending upon the individuals capacity and love (or rejection) of God.

With this in mind, I'm sure that after the resurrection people would get to know the Father, the Son or the Holy Ghost a whole lot better than they do in this mortal existance. I tentatively speculate that the Son's of Perdition are those who reject even the Spirit, after the resurrection. In addition, our spiritual condition in this existance is attached to the post-ressurection condition.

However, based on the above hypothesis the Sons of Perdition may include those who, in this lifetime, are not church members or even religious.

Make any sense?

Loren said...

"Regarding some of your comment on equating faith with knowing. Faith has been defined in scripture as imperfect knowledge"

This is exactly what I'm saying. I realize there's a difference between the 2, but when I talk to people at church about whether we know or have faith? The answer always seems to be that they definitely know. Then I bring up Alma 32, they say well of course it isn't a perfect knowledge, we have faith. Grrrr. So the answer seems to be both. Confusing.

You say that there are different levels of knowing, which I agree with as well. But again, the church presents a different picture, where it's all or nothing. e.g. either Joseph Smith was a prophet or we are engaged in the greatest fraud in history (Hinckley). In theory there's not much wiggle room between knowing and not knowing, in practice things are more nuanced, but it still bugs me how people claim to know for certain the church is true, when at best they only have a certain level of knowledge.

Loren said...

As for SoPs, I don't know about your conclusion there Justin. I mean, one of the nice things about mormon theology is that almost everyone partakes at least in a portion of salvation (from D&C 76, also the section you were referring too). The telestial kingdom is not hell in the sense that its constituents will not be suffering forever. The real punishment is dished out to evil doers during the millennium (at least that's what I was taught). According to orthodox interpretations, there just aren't going to be very many SoPs:

Anyway, most people/organizations like to maintain a level of internal consistency about the way that they operate, denying the holy ghost is one area where I think the mormon logic bubble pops. The holy ghost witnessing to you something is supposed to be the most powerfully affecting thing ever (if you deny it, you're toast). Yet, receiving the second comforter, Jesus, trumps the first, especially when you're having your calling and election made sure. But if you deny Jesus (without having your CaEMS) no worries, you can repent. The first is last and the last is fist or something. I question the power that the Holy Ghost manifests as a witness anyway (because I don't think he exists). If he gives out such great testimonies, why do so many people lose them so easily?

Justin said...

Hi, I didn't mean that if you aren't a church member then it was a possibility. As much as it's a possibility for church members. There's no way I believe all non-church members will become SoP, and it's contrary to D&C 76. Yeah, I expect there will be relatively few.

You wrote, "... But if you deny Jesus... no worries, you can repent. The first is last and the last is fist or something."
it seems you're looking at it from the wrong angle, you have to look at it in the context of closeness to God, and in the context of degrees of glory.

LDS scriptures make it clear that hell is more than just a destination, but also a state of spiritual condition (e.g Mormon 9: 3-5. 14). The spirit's condition determines the destination.

Now put that in the context of D&C 76. Say a person denies the presence/love of Jesus Christ and thus cannot stand His presence. Then he (excuse the gender bias) may be able to to stand the presence of only the Holy Spirit.
Since the presence of the Holy Spirit is the lowest of God's comfort/presence (and translates to Telestial glory, see D&C 76:82-83, 86-88) then anything less will be an absence of His presence - see the Sons of Perdition.

D&C76: 30-38, makes some description of the SoP. That description mauy or may not be exhaustive.

We can only speculate on why a person would deny even the presence of the Holy Ghost and be completely away from God's presence. However we are also told that 1/3 of the host of Heaven followed Lucifer to a similar state. Why they did may be baffling but they must have their reasons. I suppose the difference between rejection Jesus Christ and rejection the Holy Ghost is how much of the plan of Salvation you accept and how much love you have for God.

Based on D&C76: 31-35, to become a Son of Perdition may be a particular form of temptation that one becomes susceptable to once he has recieved a certain amount of truth and power(Whether you recieved enough or not, Loren, I don't know). Different people under different circumstances are susceptible to different temptations.

Overall, I don't see an inconsistancy, there isn't much information on the SoP topic revealed to us yet. That isn't surprising since knowing about the SoP doesn't seem very conductive to our salvation.

Justin said...

On the faith issue.

1. "...Then I bring up Alma 32, they say well of course it isn't a perfect knowledge, we have faith. Grrrr. So the answer seems to be both."
I dunno man, all I can say is if I wanted to win a boxing match I'd want to be 100% certain about winning beforehand. Statements like "I am" and "I know" would be suitable for the occasion. To know in your mind before the outcome really is manifest is a law of creation. It's productive and it makes people happier.

Once people have recieved a strong enough testimony of something then they are justified in saying that they know. How much testimony that takes may vary from person to person. I could doubt that I'm really sitting in from of my computer right now, typing this stuff, it could just be an illusion, but it isn't very fruitful to doubt or think like that... so I can simply say "I know, to the best of my ability of knowing". Our abilities of knowing can change over time too.

2. "e.g. either Joseph Smith was a prophet or we are engaged in the greatest fraud in history (Hinckley)"

Baring apostasy after Joseph Smith's death, I would actually agree with Hinkley because I can't see how Joseph Smith could have did all he did and claimed all he claimed by accident or dellusion.

What we need to be careful of is which events are essential to making the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS what it claims to be. There are a lot of details in church history and Joseph Smith's life that people may find repulsive, but the truth of the Church doesn't necessarily stand or fall upon those things.
e.g. People seem concerned about what Joseph was using (actually what he was was doing) as he translated the BoM. Frankly, I couldn't care if Joseph Smith translated the BoM while putting his face in a pile of cow dung. All that matters is whether or not the BoM is true and it was given to him by God. Like I have mentioned before, strangeness is relative to our understanding and conditioning, but 'strange' doesn't have to equal false.

If Joseph Smith translated the BoM and it's a true record then Joseph Smith was a Prophet.

Loren said...

*deep sigh* Yes, it's a useful psychological tool to bullshit yourself into action, otherwise precious little would get done. Yes, everyone does this and Mormons do it especially well. The thing that annoys me is that they testify as if they have "perfect knowledge" about the truth of what they're saying when they don't. How many times have I heard in class "none of us in here have seen God, but we know he exists" no one ever put their hand up to say, "well actually he was just over my place the other day as a matter of fact." If people insist on using know so loosely, fine I'll let them have their fun. I also like how there's no acknowledgement that they Mormons or any other religious group might possibly be wrong (I don't expect to hear it in testimony meeting, but I rarely hear it anywhere). The arrogance, oh the arrogance. And by the way monkeys rule and at the twilight of the gods Ozomahtli will be kicking some divine ass!

Justin said...

"none of us in here have seen God, but we know he exists" no one ever put their hand up to say, "well actually he was just over my place the other day as a matter of fact."
The "still small voice" that impacts straight at the core of the soul is no less impressive for an individual than to have God around at your place.

If someone reads the BoM and then prays for an answer on it's truth and indeed gets such a direct witness, then there's nothing loose about his/her statement "I KNOW the book of mormon is True"
But we've basically talked about that already.

"I also like how there's no acknowledgement that they Mormons or any other religious group might possibly be wrong."
They can't all be right about averything, but they can all be right about something.

Let's move on to a new topic.

Loren said...

well, one more thing, maybe two. I just can't help it. Also, I may need a gun because I'm about to shoot myself. Aarrrrrrrrrgggggggh!

That kind of thinking (your last statement ) is what infuriates me about the culture of the church. There's very little room to step back and truly take stock of your beliefs or ask searching questions, especially in the public sphere. You've got to go by the book always.

I am well aware of how and what the spirit is supposed to do. But what happens in real peoples lives when the reality doesn't reflect the pat answers? Well it is unbelievable that this scenario is even possible to the true believer. The doubting Thomas must have done something wrong (by the way I find it incredibly ironic that you're so insistent on proclaiming the power of the Holy Ghost, when you openly admit that you've never had the Moroni 10 promise thing confirmed). Well, if I can't get it right after 30 years its probably not going to happen.

So I try and look at it objectively, what are the variables at play, what is the benefit of continuing down this road? I love the spirit of the early saints. There seemed to be this honest striving, and searching for the truth. People would speculate like crazy trying to make sense of the doctrine and how it related to them. That has been dialed down these days, for whatever reason.

To me it all feels dead, the overly somber meetings. The regurgitated answers in class that we've all heard since primary. It just didn't feel real, it all felt like an act. When I tried to change things up, everyone went on the defensive straight away. I admit to being overly given to bouts of "serious reflection and great uneasiness", but I just can't shake the feeling that if there is a power greater than us, than it much greater and more powerful than what I found attending church.

For me religious practice should be just that, or at least mostly that. Sure, there'll be creeds, and metaphysics and the like, but I feel that it should be a living breathing thing that you do, on the ground in real life. Can that happen within Mormonism? Certainly. But I don't like the way things have gone, and I'm not going to waste precious hours of my life trying to convince people a way from something that brings them happiness. I'm better off on the outside, still striving, still searching, growing toward the truth in a way that makes me feel fulfilled.

Justin said...

"Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. ... Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or woman."
--President George Q. Cannon

Justin said...

You mean, "let's move onto a new topic"? sorry if it reminds you of something in particular. I just said it coz I felt our discussion was getting a bit tired and circular (too much repetition).

You wrote:
"There's very little room to step back and truly take stock of your beliefs or ask searching questions, especially in the public sphere. You've got to go by the book always.
... When I tried to change things up, everyone went on the defensive straight away."

OK, for example?

Loren said...

Regarding the Canon quote. There are probably a million similar statements from the brethren at one time or another. Brigham, hopes we don't take the prophets at their word, but find out for ourselves etc.

The difficulty I see with this is that there are statements from the prophets that would lead the faithful to believe the exact opposite of the sentiment in question: When the prophets speak the thinking has been done, The Lord will never allow the prophet to lead the church astray, criticizing the leaders is the first step to apostasy, and that type of thing.

One of the talks you shared had that classic chestnut "catholics think the pope is infallible and no one believes it, and Mormons think the prophet is fallible and no one believes it." There is a tension where questioning and not questioning collide, but I definitely feel that the idea of the prophets being nigh on infallible has taken a much stronger hold over the church, than the opposing view (at least that's the way it comes across in general practice, people may think differently, but this isn't usually explicitly expressed at meetings).

However, you can see why people would side with the prophets word being akin to God's word ("whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same"). It's reasonable to expect the prophets to have a stronger sense of what is revelation and what isn't, They're special witnesses of God after all, because if they're prone to mistakes like every other member, why should we listen to what they have to say at all? God wouldn't let them lead us astray though, right? Then polygamy, priesthood bans, proposition 8 and other stuff happens. It just makes me wonder, are these guys divinely guided, or just well-meaning misguided men trying to do their best?

Loren said...

"OK for example?"

bringing up my non-hatred of gays for starters.

Justin said...

Well, the offical LDS view of homosexual tendency is that it's an affliction right? Just like, pornography, gambling or anger managment problems, or finding it hard to pay tithing.

All of which are claimed to be overcomeable.

I'm surpised you where met with opposition. Am I missing something?