Chapter 4 of Exploring Mormon Thought (Vol. 2) surveys and critiques traditional approaches to the doctrine of original sin. Chapter 5 will give us Ostler’s own approach to the problem. I haven’t read chapter 5 yet (Joe will address this chapter soon), but chapter 4 has got me thinking about original sin.
I want to recommend Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence. I don’t know what God wants with you. But, with time, I feel more confident about what he wants from me. For a long time, I thought his silence was a rebuff. Now, I’m more convinced it’s an invitation to do likewise. The silence seems like something he wants to share.
Steven Peck, in his moving and mischievous little poem “My Turn on Earth,” more than idly suggests that Creationism is Satanic. Only evolution, in all its messy contingency, is compatible with the gospel and the truth of agency. I laughed out loud and clapped my hands when I read it.
We’ve come to the last chapter of Blake Ostler’s first volume of Exploring Mormon Thought. After five months of reading and writing about this first book, I’m even more convinced than when we began that Blake’s work is and will continue to be the indisputable starting point for our generation’s work in Mormon philosophical theology.
The trouble is time. When the Buddha first turned the wheel of the dharma with his inaugural discourse at Varanasi, he articulated the first pressing reality (i.e., the first “noble truth”) of life as the truth that “Life is suffering.” He could just have easily said, “Life is time.” Gotama claimed this “stainless insight” into the order of experience on the basis of an intensive, first-person phenomenological investigation of life as it is lived. 20th century phenomenology is in fundamental agreement: the transcendental horizon of experience is time. Time is troubling. This being troubled is the stuff of life and the condition of possibility for experience. This trouble marks the impossibility of any pure presence or direct immediacy. The ceaseless rush of time constitutes the present moment as real but always passing. As pass-ing, the present is given as suspended between the past and the future and constituted by their mediation. The “immediacy” of the present moment depends on the troubling…
In chapter 8 of The Attributes of God, Ostler continues grappling with the question of human agency in relation to God’s foreknowledge. The professional literature generated by this kind of theological question is wide and deep and the field is no particular speciality of mine. On these kinds of questions, Ostler is much better read than I am. The basic problem is this: “If there is anything in [an agent’s] circumstances which precludes a person from exercising a power, then the power cannot be exercised under those circumstances” (249). Blake argues that God’s strong foreknowledge is just the kind of causally implicated circumstance that compromises a person’s freedom to exercise their agency. As a result, the power to choose in this instance is no real power and agency is compromised. I recommend a close reading of the chapter’s details. As a non-specialist, though, I’m wondering about the larger context that frames these really difficult questions.
Is there a set of all sets? This is one way of asking that most basic of all metaphysical questions: is the world “one” or “many”? For traditional Christian thinking, the difference between the world being one or many was simply the difference between Christianity and paganism. Joseph Smith’s assertion that we are uncreated and coeternal with God hits the metaphysical reset button and forces us to look at this question again.
Most of what is given is never received. Most of what is possible goes unrealized. And many feet never find a shoe. True, life presses on (except when it doesn’t). But when it moves, it moves in fits and false starts and, just like Darwin said, most of its spendthrift variations end up serving no end in particular. Call this surplus the bootless.
“Belief” is more like an armchair anthropologist’s naive explanation of what’s going on with religious people than a description of what actually happens when someone sits in a pew or kneels by a bed. The way the word gets used as shorthand for willful gullibility is all wrong. These days, talking about religious “belief” is often just a tolerant way for non-religious people to make sense of religious phenomena from across the room by, in effect, saying that the religious phenomena they don’t understand don’t really happen. Stuff doesn’t happen at church, people “believe” stuff happens at church!
Joseph Spencer, in his encouraging response to Taylor Petrey’s Dialogue article, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon theology,” makes the following claim:
Here’s my wild-eyed claim for the day: religion is about the world, not about religion. Which do you talk about at church?
Say we agree that Mormonism is about progress and progression. A couple of questions might follow.
I can’t speak to your experience. I can’t speak even to my own. But I’ll tell a story. I remember the day and time and place that I stopped believing in God, but not the date.
Joseph Spencer is indispensable. He is the “not-thoughtless” and the “never-glosses-over.”
The theologian is indispensible. She is the not-thoughtless. She takes no thought because she gives it. And the more she gives it away, the more it multiplies.
1. We admitted we were powerless over our theologies — that our thoughts had become unmanageable.
You’re given a pair of binoculars.
I know a lot of people swear by it, but I’ve never found “belief” to be a reliable way of describing what is (or isn’t) happening when I plant myself in a pew.
Say that you want to pray. Say that you want to make prayer the center of your life rather than just an aid to it. Say that you want to take up prayer as an end in itself. Say that you understand prayer to be the formal practice of submitting your will to God’s. And say that you think prayer should be at least as much about listening as talking. How long should you pray?
Over at BCC, Kristine opined last week on the subject of Mormon “intellectuals.” After admitting that knowing stuff can, in fact, be helpful, she concluded the following: “But this is the suspicion that was nagging at me during our conversation, and has not left me: intellectual gifts, like most of what we bring to the altar, are not nearly as valuable as we think they are.”