Mormons frequently invoke the idea of “agency” (whatever that means) in political discussions. We generally invoke it in liberal ways, as a justification for not regulating some for of behavior. What I want to question is this easy link between “agency” and liberalism. In the formulation given by John Stuart Mill, liberalism invokes freedom as a reason to abstain from regulating self-regarding activity. I think that when Mormons invoke the idea of “agency” to make liberal arguments they generally do so in some sort of a vaguely Millian way. However, given the theological uses to which the concept of “agency” is put, I don’t think it fits nicely into some version of John Stuart Mill. Here’s why.
I’ve been thinking recently about how to reconcile the two ideas of the perfection of God and the principle of eternal progression. We read that God is perfect; and therefore we may think that he has reached some end point or finish line in his progression. At the same time, we read that as God is now, man may become, and we are told that our exaltation will involve eternal progression; these two ideas, read together, suggest that God continues to progress. (Query: Does this refer to the Father? The Son? Both? Since we believe that the God we generally deal with is Jesus, this post will relate mostly to Jesus in his role as God, but many parts can apply to both). How can we reconcile the ideas of a perfect God and a God who continues to progress? One potential resolution that I like is to suggest that God has perfected himself as an individual, and is now…
I once asked a sage I know, “Do Mormons believe the nature of man is good or evil?” He answered, “Yes.” How wonderful, how zenny, how true.
(I blush to confess that) I’m old enough to remember the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. While there was some discussion of the film in the student ward I attended, I don’t remember it being nearly as big a kerfuffle (or “brou-hahr-hahr” as they say around here) as The Passion has been. I’m sure that not nearly as many Mormons saw The Last Temptation as will see The Passion. I can think of several possible reasons for this:
Modern writers, readers, and movie viewers know that flawless (human) characters are boring, not inspiring. So why do we portray our church leaders this way?
Hey. I keep noticing all kinds of references to Catholic thought around here. Is this a new trend in Mormon studies? The influence of _First Things_? A preoccupation of Mormon lawyers? A fluke coincidence of personal interests? What?
The discussion of “church doctrine” on this blog has thus far focused on what might be called its soteriological significance. However, it seems to me that this is hardly the only reason that one might want to be able to understand “church doctrine.”
Last week Nate wondered about how to define “church doctrine.” Near the end of the comments thread, two people very articulately wondered about why we should bother doing so. (Here’s a link to the full discussion). Greenfrog asked: “At the risk of being perceived as a bone-headed realist, doesn’t that suggest that searching for some meaningfully mandatory set of doctrines is missing the point? If such a set of doctrines really isn’t an operationally determinate criterion, why should we conclude that it matters?” Joseph Spencer then usefully reminded us that the word “doctrine” simply means teaching, and posited that the function of church doctrine is not to systematically address every theological question that could come up, but to teach members to look at the world differently. I’m not sure I have anything useful to add, but I think these are interesting questions, so I want to consider them again and try to ask some related ones:
The Book of Mormon uses the term “priestcrafts” as follows: “priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:29) Last weekend, I visited the “local” LDS bookstore (located about two hours away, near the Chicago temple) and discovered a new book about Jesus, written by a man I had met several years ago while practicing law. Although we met only briefly, my impression of this man was very favorable, and I am pretty certain that he could teach me a thing or two about Jesus. Nevertheless, whenever I visit an LDS bookstore, the verse quoted above about priestcrafts pops into my head. Mormons tend to associate that idea with televangelists, but I wonder …
As Mormons we often like to speak as though we have a well settled body of doctrine that provides determinate answers to some set of questions, but is silent as to other questions. Thus, someone makes some comment in Sunday School with which we disagree, and we are able to say, “Well that is your opinion, but it is not church doctrine.” My question is how do I figure out if something is church doctrine or not.
It looks like “The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology” has finally decied to go public. You can check out their new website (very slick) at www.smpt.org. In addition, they will be sponsoring a conference at UVSC on March 19-20 on Mormon Theology. (link here) As a lawyer, I thought it is interesting that one of the things that they cite as spurring the formation of their society is the increased awareness of the importance of the 19th century Mormon experience for the constitutional interpretation of religious freedom. Note: T&S’s Jim Faulconer is the chairman of this august organization.
There has been an interesting discussion of guilt over at Bob and Logan’s blog. In response to some comments that I made, Russell makes the following intriguing remark:
“Are Mormons Christian?” The question comes up again and again, and causes no small amount of frustration and hard feelings between Mormons and (other?) Christian groups. The response of the church, and of many members, has been to assert “Of course we’re Christian! We believe in Christ, don’t we?” Mormons are frustrated that that assertion doesn’t answer the question. After all, Christians, including those who believe that Mormons are not Christian, state that the requirement for Christianity is acceptance of Christ. If that’s the sole requirement, then Mormons are in (The church states “Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was the Creator, He is our Savior, and He will be our Judge.”). However, Dave’s recent discussion of a Methodist examination of differences between Methodism and Mormonism made me rethink the question. Are we all being a little too simplistic? That is, is Christianity defined solely by belief in Christ, or is there more to being “Christian”?
One of the perennial (and perennially fun) debates in legal theory revolves around the issue of commidification. In this context commidification means the ability to take something and sell it. Thus, we have all sorts of fun debates about prostitution, markets in adoption rights, surrogate mothering contracts, and the like. So does Mormonism offer us anything that gives us any unique traction in these debates, or as Mormons do we simply argue about these sorts of issues in the same way as everyone else?
I have been working on this post for a while, and I have finally given up (for the time being) on trying to make my thoughts more coherent. So be warned, what follows involves some rather rambling discussions of legal theory and legal history. I disclaim any warranties explicit or implied. Read at your own risk. Void where prohibited. One of my main academic interests is contract law and contract theory. As a result, I am fascinated by the theological idea of “covenant.” Generally, when people talk about “covenant” and “contract,” they distinguish them by saying that “covenants” involve spiritual things, while contracts are merely commercial transactions. They then go on to describe a covenant as a set of recipricol promises. We promise X and in return God promises Y. I tend to think that this whole approach to the question is wrong.
There is an interesting post on “The Strange Career of Mormon Structuralism” over at the Metaphysical Elders about the relationship between structuralism and the thought of Hugh Nibley. I am not sure that I agree with everything in the post, but it does raise some interesting questions
In a mad attempt to throw together Kaimi’s post on the “Christian Right” and Nate’s post on natural law, while also tossing in a bit about Catholic and Protestant theology… A few years ago I dug a little into a group called the World Congress of Families. It, like United Families International, has its roots in a loose network of politically conservative churches that saw the United Nations as beholden to an anti-traditionalist agenda. This is hardly a new complaint; it dates back to the 1960s and 70s, where you can find old John Birch Society stuff warning against the “unisex” and collectivist designs of the U.N. But it really seems to have picked up steam in the 1990s, perhaps because the weight of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic hierarchy really began to be added to the agenda (especially in regards to the role of U.N. agencies in promoting birth control and “family planning” (i.e., abortion rights)). Whatever the…
One of my favorite former professors, Noel Reynolds, dropped by and left some very interesting comments on natural law. He begins by faulting the Thomistic natural law tradition for beginning its analysis with Aristotelianism rather than the scriptures, noting that in the scriptures it is either God’s command or our covenant with him that provides moral direction, not nature. Noel goes on to ask: And yet, the plan of salvation does presume the necessity of some disposition within us to seek after good or evil. And our salvation depends on the choice we will make. Or is that already a hellenized way of putting it? For other scriptures pose this alternative as choosing to obey the Father or the devil. So is God pursuing the Good, or is he laboring to build a universe committed to doing what he believes is good? Whatever might lie behind it, the latter seems to be the view provided by him to mortals. I…