But my knowledge of Mormonism, like Fundamentalist Christianity, has been minimal. Recent conversations however have made no inroads onto the impressions I had of both of them.
And so I reply to my new Mormon friend:
I do find discussions like this interesting if only because I think and feel it is important to ask questions even when you think you have answers. And this is long because I wanted to go through what you said carefully, think about it and respond carefully. I am nothing if not prolific – I warn you.
You said: My Dad had a volume in our family bookshelves entitled "The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviours". When I perused it (at age 11 or thereabouts) it challenged my faith. But noticing Dad's continuing activity in Church, (he later became Bishop of the Philadelphia Ward) I put it among my unanswered questions until in my late teens I read a sermon by Joseph F. Smith pointing out that all this material is evidence that the Gospel in its fullness was given to Adam (including the necessity of an atonement to be accomplished by the sacrifice of The Only Begotten, 'the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world') and that the many variations on the theme are simply the results of men's innate tendency to embellish and substitute priestcraft for revealed prophetic truth. The relevant scripture is Moses 5:5-15 in The Pearl of Great Price (also available at lds.org)
Interesting that you had seen the book. I have not read it but have read quite a few others. By the time I started reading this sort of book I had read a great deal of mythology and history - European, African, Asian - and I could see the substance.
I would find it very hard to believe that any God would give all there was to know to one particular person and religion and that 'all knowledge' was in one source. The more I read about world religions, mythology and history the clearer it was that they all said at core the same things.
I have to say what you have posted here by Joseph Smith as an explanation sounds to me like a theological quickstep - that's like a parent saying you will do it because I say so - Smith says, well, I am right and they are wrong because I say so - they embellish and substitute but I have the truth. Inherent in this is a demand that people accept on faith that Smith had the truth.
I don't believe any person, religion, culture or system of belief has the truth - it all reminds me of the story of the blind men and the elephant - they all had hold of a bit of the elephant and they were convinced they knew what it was but they did not have enough 'vision' or 'sight' to see the whole thing. Each was convinced of the absolute nature of his own truth - religions are like that.
You said: I am not a scientist, but do from time to time enjoy reading about science.
I am not a scientist either but science, amongst many other things, fascinates me and I have been reading and continue to read for 40 years.
You said: This short summary is in response to a novel by John Updike in which one of the main characters,Clarence Wilmot, loses his faith because he finds himself unable to refute the reasonings of the popular agnostic lecturer Robert Ingersoll around 1910. I don't feel qualified to comment on the work of Charles Darwin, so I shall abstain from such comment.
I worked for a Catholic priest years ago, my editor – an erudite, educated and wise man, who said that everyone needs to lose their faith or ‘throw away their religion’ at some time particularly if they have gained their faith as a child. He said this was the only way to return to faith as an adult.
Since then I have read so many wonderful books on the loss of faith and the spiritual search – the most recent Thomas Moore’s Dark Night of the Soul and I almost see the loss of faith, of any kind actually, as the Hero’s (using that term for male and female as these days we say actor for all and don’t use actress.) Quest.
You said: Science and the scriptures are in complete agreement about the finite time during which life has been and shall be sustainable on earth.
I would disagree with that from what I have read although I do agree that a case can be made for agreement between some scientific and religious positions. In all honesty, I don’t actually consider it to be important given that I believe this world exists ‘eternally’ in another dimension and as Einstein so famously said: ‘Energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed.’ All is energy, ergo: nothing is destroyed. But explaining such a concept is hard enough for me to do for myself than to anyone else.
You said: Both science and the Bible say that at one time the earth was 'void', unable to sustain life,
Certainly and the same teachings are found in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Goddess Religion and countless other spiritual and shamanistic belief systems. To me this fits with the universe as more ‘thought’ than ‘machine’ and the ‘void’ being the eternal, timeless consciousness which is God. The unable to sustain life is a reference to material life as we know it. Given that we don’t and can’t know what, if any other life forms exist on other planets, neither can we know what existed in on this earth before ‘life’ as we would define it.
You said: and that at some future time life on earth will be destroyed, most probably by fire.
I believe religious and scientific theory is open to interpretation and ‘fire’ in an esoteric and symbolic sense is ‘thought’ or consciousness. In other words, to me, this ‘fire’ could be no more than consciousness changing what is for if nothing can be destroyed, which science and spirituality maintain cannot, then destruction, like death, can only be transformation. In other words, we advance and move beyond this material world because we no longer have any use for it and no longer need to create it.
You said: There is a consensus among those possessing the acquirements necessary to rightly assess historical truth that David and Solomon lived, as did their successors and ancestors.
The difficulty here is that so much of the ‘evidence’ is biblically sourced. There is virtually no solid archeological evidence for their existence and when reading sources for biblical evidence it always has to be borne in mind that much of it comes from people who believe the Bible and set out to find the evidence which supports the theory as opposed to strict archaeology which finds the concrete evidence and then looks to find support for the theory.
But again, I don’t think it matters if they did or didn’t. I know it does to Biblical scholars because the more they can find proof of history the more they can claim that more of the Bible is true.
You said: The destruction of Jerusalem around 586 B.C. is recognized as fact by both the scriptures and qualified historians.That Augustus Caesar, Herod, Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Jesus, Herodias, Salome, Pontius Pilate, Saul of Tarsus and others lived and acted the parts attributed to them in the N.T. is generally agreed by qualified students of that era.
Again I would disagree. I have read sources which support the ‘official story’ and sources which provide different stories and interpretations. There is a credible case for Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, if one is to believe enough to accept Jesus as a historical figure and that is definitely not a part of the official story and definitely not agreed on. It isn’t important to me if Jesus Christ were a real figure or a mythic creation – nor if he married or not. But I know it is to orthodox Biblical scholars.
You said: The scriptures contain many passages which are enigmatic, tantalising, and mysterious, but few if any which have been scientifically disproved.
There is a massive difference between being scientifically disproved and scientifically proven. I actually find science has too much of a materialist mindset and limits its capacity for knowledge but I also recognise that as a system of assessment it has its strengths. There is also much evidence that a lot of what is said to be history in the bible is wrong. There is in fact no archeological or scientific evidence for an Israel or Jerusalem as cited in Judaism or Christianity – rather the evidence supports the existence of Hebrew tribes, just like numerous other tribes, inhabiting Canaan/Palestine.
There is also a credible argument that the Hebrews gained their monotheistic beliefs living in Egypt during the reign of Akhenaton, a fascinating figure who, it could be argued, was the first to come up with a monotheistic religion. And at the time the Hebrews went to Canaan it was an Egyptian colony so there is a better chance that they were expelled after Akhenaton died, because they followed him and he was in disrepute and they did not invade and kill the Canaanites but were allowed safe passage by the Egyptians.
It is all fascinating and we may never really know – I am struck though by the linkages between the Ancient Egyptian religion and Christianity and Judaism. The word Amen I suspect comes from the Egyptian – Amen Ra – their Sun (Son) God! It is these connections which litter myth, history, religion and spirituality which fascinate me.
You said: There have, of course, been a plethora of interpretations of the scriptures which have been shown to be wrong (for example Isaac Newton's conclusion that the world would end around 1867.) Time has shown that Newton was interpreting the enigmatic texts using incorrect premises- but the texts themselves,while still enigmatic, are not either proven or disproved by science.
I don’t hold science as a given when it comes to proof or lack of it anyway. But I don’t need the Bible to be literal.
You said: To reject the scriptures as mere myth or legend when they contain so much accepted truth is not reasonable, but far be it from me to accuse our flawed-but-still-lovable human race of any sort of consistent reasonableness- especially when my own thoughts and actions so often fall short of consistent rationality!
I don’t reject them as such. I don’t reject them at all, I just don’t believe they are meant to be taken as literally as they are. I believe the scriptures have some history in them but do not amount to historical record. I believe they are a collection of history, myths, legends, theories, beliefs, propaganda and policies which contain some truth, some lies, some misinterpretation, some mistranslations, some confusions and some poetry.
In simple terms I don’t believe the bible has been read correctly because the literal interpretations are so often, well, quite simply unkind, if not intolerant that I can’t believe they are sourced in any true spirituality. In other words the biggest problem with the scriptures is human agendas! More to the point masculine human agendas.
You said: The miracles related in the scriptures have been debated but not disproved. Many have the support of multiple credible witnesses.
No, they don’t have credible witnesses because the Bible is not a credible archeological or historical record. Although I don’t think that matters.
You said: In a day in which DNA sequencing and cloning are everyday occurrences the eventual resurrection of the body has never seemed more reasonable.
I agree that given what we know about this world today – and given what spiritual teachings, the Hindus and Buddhists in particular, said millennia ago, long before Judaism and Christianity, and given what Quantum physics is now finding, I think we are in a much better position to re-interpret some Biblical stories and to find greater levels of understanding.
Eventual resurrection doesn’t make sense to me – the spiritual or energy body leaving at the death of the material body does make sense and is what survivors of NDE report and what mystics and shamans have talked about for millennia. The Doppleganger effect, which has been documented, is evidence that we possess both a material and an energy body. We don’t need to resurrect at a later date because we never die. Only the material body dies and that is not us – it is a costume we wear in this world.
You said: To ridicule the Virgin Birth of Christ in a time when artificial insemination is routinely practiced by mere mortals seems to me ludicrously out-of-date.
I can see what you are getting at but I am not sure it is so much ‘out of date’ as lacking greater perspective. I don’t happen to think it matters if there were a Virgin birth or not – what I do think is that a Virgin birth is unnecessary and more likely to be a neat patriarchal twist. But then as I said, I lean more toward JC not being a historical figure.
But if he did live then there is absolutely no reason why he could not have been created normally. In other words, no need for ancient IVF. However, given what I believe about this energy world in which we live, anything is possible.
I do believe that there are Advanced Souls, call them angels if you like, or lightworkers, who are here in this material dimension but in spiritual or energy form – Jesus could have been one of those and the Virgin birth explanation just the only way people could make sense of it at the time.
You said: Healing by faith among believers is now and has often been rather commonplace and is abundantly documented. I am myself an eyewitness of such healing.
I agree completely. Materialist science disagrees completely although advances in physics and Allopathic medicine are bringing greater awareness and understanding of the energy body/bodies we possess along with the material. The Hindus and Buddhists and the Chinese (without religion) have known about these things for millennia – long before the Bible or the Torah.
I find it exciting that these truly ancient spiritual teachings and more recent healing methodologies sourced in such beliefs, like Homeopathy, are being utilised and better understood.
The research into the Mind/Body connection, which even some aspects of science and medicine are beginning to accept, fits with some of the most ancient spiritual teachings and makes it clear that Mind does affect Matter and that we do ‘create our own reality’ in a very material way.
You said: Of the miracle of the raising of life from a dead, void earth we are all eyewitnesses.
I have no problem at all believing that someone who is clinically dead can be returned to life. Near Death Experiences have also been recorded for centuries but there are more and more of them today and they are clear evidence that death is merely a transition to another world.
You said: For that to have happened randomly, seems far more miraculous and improbable to me than if it happened by an omnipotent Father's plan.
I agree on the random but I don’t think it needs to be part of a plan and neither does the omnipotent force need to be genderised as male. I disagree with Darwinism, the evolutionary religion of science, because like a lot of religions as we know them, it is too literal, too absolute and too dogmatic.
I see evolution as a part of the explanation not the only explanation.
You said: But each of us is given the capacity to freely choose how to interpret the miracles of our lives- that too, according to the scriptures, is part of our Father in Heaven's plan.
The Father bit puts me off and always did. I might have stayed with Christianity if there were not so much He, Him, Father, Son stuff – I wouldn’t have liked the female version of it either although what I like about the Goddess religion is it doesn’t do that in the same way – but God without gender is an absolute for me. I think someone did produce a non-gender version of the bible which is a step in the right direction.
As to it being part of a plan – I have moved toward the view that we do come into this world having planned our life in terms of experience – as the Arabs would say: ‘It is written,’ and as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, ‘All the world’s a stage and we must play our part,’ …… so I don’t think we can necessarily choose again in this world what happens to us but I do think free will allows us to choose, within the limits of our nature and circumstances, what we do with it.
I think the choosing is done before we re-incarnate. Although I do wonder about the ‘String Theory’ aspect of Quantum Physics and extrapolating on that, if we do in fact follow different paths when we make different choices – in other words – the ‘play’ we wrote for ourselves in the Real World, that world beyond death, has a multitude of ‘endings’ depending on how we use our free will and the choices we make.
I am still pondering that one but it makes a lot of sense to me.
You said: Unfortunately many, like Updike's Clarence Wilmot, are "carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Paul, Eph.4:14)
Well, astrology and my version of String Theory can also explain this. Some people are carried about but perhaps that is their journey, their lesson, and a lesson for others. I actually believe our main task is to increase consciousness but I am nowhere near fixed on that as a view either given that excellent people live excellent lives without becoming particularly conscious.
Although I believe there are cosmic life experiences just as there are personal life experiences and astrology also supports that, and to that end, I believe or feel, we are at a point in history where consciousness is increasing and is meant to increase to take us closer to the truth of our spiritual selves and our role as co-creators with God in this material world.
You said: The moral standards and teachings of the scriptures have abundant and increasing support in well-accepted social science, medical and legal literature.
I don’t have a problem with this as long as those teachings and standards are just, fair and compassionate. And that they make sense.
You said: One example: The Word of Wisdom, a revelation given through Joseph Smith February 27, 1833 from which I quote: " Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation- that inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him…….
This smacks of Man not God to me. Human beings have been creating alcoholic drinks since the beginning and there are few, if any, tribes or groups which did not or do not make alcoholic drinks. I see alcohol as God’s gift to the world – beats pharmaceuticals any day and, as with all things, if used in moderation is both food and medicine.
And of course this is not a general Christian teaching but one specific to Mormonism. Jesus according to the stories was not averse to wine and Anglicans and Catholics and other versions of Christianity do not have a problem with it either.
You said: And, behold, this should be wine, yea pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
Except that the Christians have been instrumental in making alcohol for millennia and the monks and nuns made many strong alcoholic drinks we still have today as medicines. It is silly to say it is not for the belly. Many liqueurs and aperitifs are invaluable digestives in a physiological sense.
And recent studies show people who drink no alcohol are less healthy and don’t live as long as people who drink some alcohol.
You said: And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgement and skill.
This is a man talking, not God or a healer. Tobacco is a herb, absolutely and an invaluable one. It was originally recommended for asthmatics among other things. The problem with smoking is not tobacco, it is the chemical cocktail which cigarettes have become and the over-use of them which is the problem. Nicotine settles the gut and has a medicative effect on a number of diseases, which is why nicotine is now administered in drug form as a treatment. It’s calming effect is also why those in traumatic situations are more likely to smoke – soldiers, doctors, nurses, police, ambulance and emergency staff etc. Moderation in all things is the key.
You said: And again hot drinks are not for the body or belly....all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen"
That’s a bit of a tall order for avoiding hot drinks and doesn’t make sense either. Coffee, tea, chocolate, herbal teas etc., are all medicinal and good for one if drunk in moderation. And to be honest, if someone purporting to have a hotline to God tried to tell me that I couldn’t drink tea, coffee or anything hot because it was unhealthy and because it would get me Brownie points with God, I would think he was delusional.
Smith may have been a better preacher than herbalist if he says these sorts of things. There is a wealth of advice about the body and my view is that we are all different and if it works for you then great, but if not then don’t bother with it. The Chinese, who have developed one of the most effective and remarkable healing methodologies in the world, one thousands of years old, believe that drinking iced water is bad for you when the weather is cold because it impacts digestion. That makes sense. They also say that it is worse for some people than for others and worse more at some times than other times. That also makes sense.
A general rule banning hot drinks does not make sense and even less sense if keeping to cold drinks keeps people healthier given that few people in the world abide by that and the world population keeps growing. And the longest living groups of people in the world consume hot drinks! I am guessing this is a Mormon rule – it is the first time I have ever heard of such a thing. And I am guessing that most Mormons live in the US but the best longevity rates show the US doesn’t even make the top ten – Australia comes ninth. Andorra, in France is first, then China, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland – none of which have any bans on hot drinks. But here’s one thing they all have in common – a respect for and enjoyment of good food!
There is an Arab teaching that we come into this world with a certain number of breaths and that makes sense to me. Our health is sourced in our genetic, astrological, circumstantial and physiological inheritances and conditions. We have free will over how we live but I am not convinced that how we live predicates on when we die. Some people smoke, drink, live on fast food and live long and healthy lives – others eat mung beans, exercise, fast, vegan, whatever and die while cycling of a heart attack in their fifties.
There is some very interesting research done and continuing on twins, revealing that certain medical conditions are likely to appear regardless of what one eats, drinks or does. I am for moderation and I listen to and observe my body – I do believe that there is more nourishment in food which is as natural as possible, organic and locally sourced but I also believe the crucial thing is that one enjoys what one eats or drinks. If you enjoy it then it does you good. Enjoying food or drink, taking it in consciously and with gratitude is what I call prayer.
Having lived in India for four years and various African countries for the past dozen or more I simply don’t believe that half the food/drink/exercise rules preached at us in the West, make sense or provide any guarantees of health or longer life. Apart from which some of the true delights of my day are my coffee mid morning and afternoon and after dinner – my tea at breakfast and lunch and my wine or spirits in the evening – that and some excellent food cooked with love and enjoyment and eaten with those I love… or alone if need be. My drink of choice beyond tea, coffee, wine is water!
It has been interesting going through your post and pondering as I post in reply. Thanks for taking the time to write. I really don’t expect you to read this all but I found it interesting to go through what you said and formulate responses.