Author: joespencer

Exploring Mormon Thought: Sin

I’ve struggled with what to write in response to chapter 5 of The Problems of Theism and the Love of God. Why? Because, except when it comes to nit-picky details, I’m in full agreement with Ostler for once. Indeed, I applaud this chapter and am eager to see how he moves forward with it in the next chapters. What to write, then? For fun, I think I’ll just insert here, as a kind of confirmation of what Ostler has to say, my own recent written reflections on Romans 1—a passage he cites on page 162. Here is the passage in its entirety, with my own translation: It’s immediately within preaching, within the transfer of faith, that divine righteousness is revealed—as it’s written: “The one who’s righteous will live by faith”—while divine wrath is revealed from heaven against all lack of divinity, against all human unrighteousness, against all those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. What’s known of God is manifest…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Ethics

Ostler opens chapter 3 of The Problems of Theism and the Love of God by referring to several different individuals’ claim that the ontological commitments of Mormon theology foreclose the possibility of its embracing a defensible moral theory. Ostler then takes as his task in this chapter not only to identify what he takes to be Mormonism’s moral theory but also to argue for the possibility of such a moral theory to be fully robust despite its rootedness in a non-traditional theism. Much of the chapter is tied up in the details of an ongoing exchange between himself and Francis Beckwith on this question, but the conclusions to which Ostler comes in the end are relatively straightforwardly stated: (1) Every moral theory fails except for the Kantian one. (2) Even the Kantian moral theory fails in certain regards (i.e., it needs revision). (3) A revised Kantian moral theory, fully defensible, is the Mormon moral theory. What does that revised Kantian…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Love

I’m more than happy to be turning from the divine attributes to the question of divine love. I wasn’t particularly concerned about whether God possesses the several “omni’s” before beginning this project, and, for all I’ve learned along the path laid out by Ostler’s first volume, I’m no more concerned now than I was before. Of course, I think in the end that Ostler himself would have to say that he shares my sentiments in this regard—at least to some degree. His project as he describes it in the prefaces to the several volumes of Exploring Mormon Thought is one of putting up with the sorts of ontotheological questions the tradition raises in order eventually to get to what he takes to be the beating heart of Mormon theology: the love of God. As with Ostler, the question of God’s love—and especially the question of grace—is one to which I’m not only willing but thrilled to give my attention. Ostler…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Christ

I haven’t any real idea who or what or how—or even when!—Jesus Christ was. And is. And will be. As odd as I’m sure it sounds, I’m not terribly interested in changing that situation. I suspect that, in large part, my ignorance and feeling of content concerning that ignorance are more a side effect than anything else, a side effect of the Pauline commitments that were created, nurtured, and cemented in me through my obsessive work on the Book of Mormon. The Christ to whom I have declared undying fidelity, of whom I consistently testify, concerning whom I couldn’t feel love more deeply—that Christ—is the one who died and rose again, who worked out a concrete, material immanent critique of death he then committed in theological form to Saint Paul, who came to Lehi’s children with pierced hands he used almost exclusively to turn the pages of Isaiah, Micah, Malachi, and who knows what other Hebrew texts. The Gospels? They’re…

Exploring Mormon Thought: God As Limit?

It seems hard to deny that some kind of structure, however fragile or unstable, organizes human experience. And it seems hard to deny that a major aspect—if not the determining characteristic—of the structure of experience is time. Let’s grant all that for the purposes of this week’s discussion. If we take as paradigmatic the structure of a formal system, it turns out that there are two possibilities when it comes to a structure, as the early twentieth century’s greatest mathematical minds taught us: if a structure is consistent, it is incomplete; if a structure is complete, it is inconsistent. More strictly, every structure robust enough to be worthy of the name as it were produces an undecidable element—an element that cannot determinately be said either to belong or not to belong to the structure in question; if it is decided, in the name of achieving systemic completeness, that this element belongs to the structure, inconsistency results; but if it is…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Divine Belief

We remain, in chapter 9 of The Attributes of God, within Ostler’s larger assessment of the (in)compatibility between exhaustive divine foreknowledge and human free will. I want to do two things in this post. First, I want to focus briefly on Ostler’s claim, on page 280, that the point on which “the debate ultimately turns” is “whether God’s having a belief is relevantly similar to humans having beliefs.” Second, I want to move from an investigation into what Ostler is doing with that gesture to yet another reframing of the question concerning knowledge—a reframing akin in spirit to what I did a couple weeks ago with chapter 7 and what Adam did last week with chapter 8. Divine Unicity I: What Says Joseph? Ostler claims that the pivotal point for the philosophical analysis of divine foreknowledge is the question of whether God is “utterly unique” or “a member of a kind” (p. 280). With this gesture, Ostler comes back to…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Agency

I will intentionally ignore the larger context in which chapter 7 of The Attributes of God appears—namely, an attempt to nail down the nature, according to the Mormon conception, of divine omniscience. I’ll focus more narrowly on just what Ostler has to say about agency. I think the larger concerns here are important, but we have some weeks yet in which to take up his conclusions. Late in chapter 7, Ostler begins to speak of emergence. I think this is the right term, but not, I think, in the way Ostler uses it. I want to talk about agency itself—in more classically philosophical terms: subjectivity—as emergent, but he, if I understand him right, wants to talk about choice-events as emergent. What’s the difference? Ostler, following the basic framework of analytic discussions of freedom of the will, provides us with two broad approaches to the will’s freedom—the compatibilist thesis, according to which the idea of the freedom of the will is…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Analysis and Synthesis

In the fourth chapter of The Attributes of God, Ostler does both a nice bit of analysis and a nice bit of synthesis. Ostler’s Analytic Gesture Through engagements with a handful of potential philosophical pitfalls, Ostler constructs a very nice analytic definition of omnipotence, stated thus on page 116: A is omnipotent at [time] t if A is able unilaterally to bring any logically possible state of affairs SA after t which (i) does not entail that “A does not bring about SA at t,” and (ii) is compossible with all events which preceded t in time in the actual world. Ostler has worked into a single definition here all the caveats that have to be noted in any conception of omnipotence that hopes to avoid certain contradictions or paradoxes. It works, I think, and does an excellent job of skirting a whole series of difficulties. Ostler’s Synthetic Gesture Drawing on the Pratts, a bit of Mormon folk theology, a…

Exploring Mormon Thought: The Apostasy and Mormon Theology

What role do apostasy narratives play in Mormon theological discourse? Actually, let me ask that question more clearly, since I’m after something pre- rather than de-scriptive: What role should apostasy narratives play in Mormon theological discourse? A long and venerable tradition has given such narratives theological pride of place, but I want to ask whether that tradition has not generally seen Mormon thinkers wandering in theologically unproductive paths. Is there reason to be done, once and for all, with apostasy narratives in our theological work?

Exploring Mormon Thought: Prefaces

The Ancient of Days

A close reading of Blake Ostler’s work is timely, and I’m happy to do it alongside of Adam Miller. I’ve left mostly to Adam’s post last week to state what we’re up to and why. I want this week, before we come to the chapter-by-chapter work of this project, to say something about how time has affected Ostler’s project—how the project has changed between 2001 (publication of volume one) and 2008 (publication of volume three). I’ll also have to say a word about how it may change before 2012 is over (publication of volume four). My modus operandi will be simple: I will look at the prefaces to the already-published volumes of Exploring Mormon Thought.