Friday, December 31, 2010

Forms of Theism and the evolution of Joseph Smith's Theology

My definitions of the forms of theism (belief in God):

Monotheism: There is one God and there are no other Gods, ever. Never has been, never will be. God is eternal and NO ONE else can ever be God. Jesus was not God, the Holy Ghost is not God, there is only one God and no one else is or can become God. (Judaism is an example of monotheism. They believe in Jehovah and beside him there can be no other. Even the Messiah would never be equal to Jehovah and the Messiah certainly would not declare himself to be Jehovah.)

Scriptures in support of monotheism:
Exodus 20:3
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Exodus 23:13
“And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.”

1 Timothy 2:5
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”

Modalistic Monotheism: There is only one God but the form of God can change. Before Jesus came to earth Jesus was THE God in heaven, the Jehovah of the Old Testament. However, when He came to earth he was God in the flesh. Beside him there was no other God while he was in the flesh (in heaven or anywhere). Basically there is only one God, but God can appear in different forms as needed. While in a form, the form is God and the other, prior, form of God ceases to exist while God takes a different form.

Scriptures in support of Modalistic Monotheism:
John 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 8:38-40, 58-59
“38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham… [Apparently Abraham did not know the name of God, or, if he did, he did not tell anyone.]
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” [When Jesus declared “I am”, the reason the Pharisees took up stones to throw at him is because he was committing the worst form of blasphemy by declaring to be Jehovah of the Old Testament. “I am” or “YHWH” was the name given to Moses on the Mount as the name of God. See Exodus 3:14-15.]

Binitarian/Trinitarian(ism): God is made up of two (Binitarian) or three (Trinitarian) beings that all exist independent of each other and may occupy different places in space but all share equal power and authority. If one of the 2 or 3 beings says so than God says so and they always agree and will always support each other in their decisions/actions. Besides the 2 or 3 beings of God, there can be no other Gods.

Scriptures in support of Binitarian/Trinitarianism:
John 17:5
“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

John 5:23
“That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”

Matthew 28:19
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” [Why would baptism require the names of 3 beings unless they are all equal and need to sponsor (in essence) or accept the ordinance for it to be valid?]

Polytheism: There are many Gods. God has a father and His Father has a Father and it has no beginning. It just goes back on and on. Anyone can become God and many already have become Gods. In this view God is just a title and not so much about who the person of God is, just about who meets the criteria to become God. In essence these all speak for God and theoretically no one who has achieved the title of God will ever disagree with what God the title stands for.

Scriptures in support of Polytheism:
None from the Bible

Abraham 4
“And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” [Chapter goes on to describe the creation story replacing God with Gods]

Doctrine and Covenants 132:20
“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” [However, “gods” as used in this verse, is not capitalized. Are we to assume that there are different levels of god? One may be able to become god but will never be able to become God with a capital G?]

Atheism: The belief that there is no god or gods but all of it is made up.

Scriptures in support of atheism:

Problems with each:

Monotheism: This is contrary to the LDS theology that man can become like God or become God. It does not seem to offer any hope of anyone ever being able to achieve God’s status in the universe. Man (along with all of God’s creations) will never be able to be like God. We are all damned, sort of speak, in the sense that we will never be able to be as enlightened or smart as God, let alone enjoy all that he enjoys in the eternities.

Modalistic Monotheism: This seems to contradict what Jesus himself said. Jesus said that everything he did, he did to honor his Father in heaven, which seems to indicate there is another being in heaven that Jesus wants us all to be mindful of and give all the glory to. His cry on the cross asking His Father to forgive them or to take the cup from Him, doesn’t seem to make sense if He was crying out to Himself (yet to achieve another form). Jesus seemed to indicate that his Father was a separate being from himself that we should give honor to. The only question is what level of equality with God the Father did Jesus achieve through what he did? The very idea that God can take different forms depending on the situation, and need, is an interesting one, however.

Binitarian/Trinitarian: This also seems to exclude the possibility of anyone ever achieving Godhood. It does make sense that God the Father is God and Jesus, the Son is a being equal to God and therefore a God and the Holy Ghost is considered God as well. Also, this view seems the most likely to become a polytheistic one because the logic would follow that if Jesus was able to become God as God’s only begotten Son, then maybe God has other begotten sons or daughters that could also become like God.

Polytheism: The problem with Polytheism is that it is not supported any where in the bible. The Old Testament only mentions Gods (plural) when referring to all the heathen false Gods (other than Jehovah) and the New Testament does not mention the possibility of becoming God (with the exception of expressions of the divinity of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.) Another more practical problem of polytheism is that there is always a question about which person of God we are communicating with. Since God is a title and not just one person, when people pray they may be praying to the God who was Jesus when he was on the earth (but is now God in heaven), or Abraham who is a God in heaven or any number of Gods which have subsequently become Gods. Some LDS may take comfort in the idea that they may actually be praying to Joseph Smith who has since become a God and could have taken the place of the God the Father.

Atheism: The problem with atheism is that those that are theists claim that atheists have no purpose in life. Life is declared to have no meaning if there is no chance at a life in the hereafter. The difference is atheists do not place emphasis on a life in the hereafter or allowing someone who claims to know what god wants for them to reveal what their purpose in life is. They find their own purpose and live life to its fullest now because they are not concerned about what any god thinks of their life and what makes them happy. There are many reasons for behavior and acting well in a civilized society. The thing that theists do not understand is that belief in god is not required to have a moral code.

What is the current LDS view of God?
Who knows.

Did Joseph Smith’s definition of God change over time?
Changes related to the nature of God from the Original Book of Mormon Text and the current version:

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 25):
“And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.” (This represents a modal monotheistic view because it implies a change in state once Jesus became flesh)

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 11:18):
“And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God.”

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 25):
“And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, even the Eternal Father!”

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 11:21):
“And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 26):
“And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.”

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 11:32):
“And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.”

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 32):
“These last records ... shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.”

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 13:40):
“These last records ... shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.”

Early Examples of Monotheism
Book of Mormon, Alma 11:26-28 (1827-1830)
“And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God. And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No.”

D&C 20: 17-19 (April 1830)
17 By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;
18 And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;
19 And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible Isaiah 44:6,8:
“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer, the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

The Book of Moses, Moses 1:6:
“And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of my Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.”

Moving from Monotheist to “Binitarian” (belief in two equal Gods)
Lectures on Faith, Lecture Five:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things — by whom all things were created and made . . . They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fullness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made and fashioned like unto man.

Lectures on Faith, Lecture Five (question and answer section)
Q. How many personages are there in the Godhead?
A. Two: the Father and the Son.

Examples of Polytheism
Book of Abraham 4 (1835)
“And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate . . . and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters. And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light.”

Joseph Smith’s King Follet Discourse (History of the Church, vol. 6, 1844)
“I want to reason a little on this subject (that God himself has a father). I learned it by translating the (Book of Abraham) papyrus that is now in my house. I learned a testimony concerning Abraham, and he reasoned concerning the God of heaven . . . If Abraham reasoned thus - If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also.”

The teachings of religion in relation to the nature of God do have distinct characteristics and can be placed in one of a few categories. Christianity seems to be Trinitarian, while Judaism seems to be Monothestic. LDS theology is an enigma because examples of Trinitarianism and Polytheism can both be found. In addition, the understanding of Joseph Smith seems to have changed over time. If one examines writings of Joseph at different times in his life, it can be shown that his views of God evolved over time from pure monotheism, to modal monotheism, to trinitarianism to polytheism. As for which the church stands for today, remains uncertain because clarification on the official stance of the church has yet to be forthcoming. This only leads to confusion when attempting to confirm Joseph's mission and calling as "restorer" of truth. It seems he actually did more to create confusion regarding the nature of God in the universe than any other religious leader. To me this confusion is indicative that Joseph Smith was mostly acting in his own interests rather than acting out of respect for any divine mandate or calling from God. If Joseph didn't really understand who God was and seemed to change his views over time, how can one rely on any of his work?

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's a Miracle!

OMG! The Provo tabernacle burned down! But it was a miracle because a picture of Jesus got burned all around the edges leaving just the figure of Jesus in the middle! I can't believe it! It must be a sign from the Good Lord Himself! Here's a link to the story here.

What does it all mean? Is the second coming closer now because of this miraculous good fortune? Is Jesus going to descend and make his first stop in Provo whilst miraculously rebuilding the Provo tabernacle!? I like that it is a "Christmas" Miracle no less. This must mean that Jesus was really born on December 25th! No wait, that's not right, he was supposedly born in the spring...well it must mean that Jesus loves the fact that we adopted a pagan holiday festival for his birth because He gets all the glory in spite of the fact that it's not his actual birthday. I can't dog on Jesus too much, though, He's just a symbol. The Guy probably doesn't really care very much at this point what property burns and which survives. Of course it just cracks me up that, if Jesus is somehow orchestrating all these events, Jesus would decide to spare a part of his picture, but allow an entire structure, a place that was built to allow his worshipers to congregate in his memory, to be completely burned out. Maybe Jesus' message is that he doesn't require houses of worship, just pictures of himself to meaningfully celebrate him and his mission. But wait, we can't interpret it that way, because we have to continue to have places to meet...even though Jesus taught the people in his day in the great outdoors or borrowed places. But that is no way to run a church...people have to have places to meet and honor him. The messages are so confusing...

Don't get me wrong, I mean absolutely no disrespect in what I am saying here. The burning of a great historical landmark is so immensely tragic. I do not in any way condone the mocking of the loss of such a great place that brings many fond memories for so many. My observations here are strictly in relation to the elation communicated by people over the apparent miracle of the Lord Jesus' picture surviving the fire.

Has anyone seen the movie playing on the Hallmark channel called "Finding John Christmas"? My wife loves that movie. I tried to like it, but it was just a hair over unbearable for me because of the supernatural aspect of it. What is it about supernatural events that people are so drawn to? Is it that people who have faith in something are constantly looking for signs to confirm what they believe? But I thought sign seeking was wicked and adulterous? So we're not supposed to seek signs, but the faithful secretly hope for them and really love it when they are encountered? After all, they remind us that God is in the "little things".

Part of me wants to go along and find comfort in the Christmas season and all the miracles that go along with it (even if they are small and meaningless). I love the time of year. I love the lights, some of the music and the goodies that numerous people send our way. This is a very difficult time for me as well. This is really the first Christmas that I am going through being where I am at with the church and all. My eyes are being opened to all of the ways which religion has so infiltrated a great pagan holiday. I also take comfort in the fact that the holiday is somewhat returning to its roots so to speak. There is so much that Jesus has successfully been left out of, that for people who no longer buy the whole story of Christmas b.s., it is actually quite bearable. I had to notice that it seems like many of the Christmas songs (played in stores and on the radio, unless you are in Utah I guess) that mention stuff about Jesus are usually musical renditions only and they leave the lyrics to the imagination. Now we just need people to come up with good lyrics to go with the music we all associate with Christmas.

One final thought about what would truly be a miracle. It seems that there was a musical group who were going to be performing in the Provo tabernacle who had left all of their sound equipment in the tabernacle which was all lost in the fire. What would be the real miracle is if the church put in the money to pay for all the equipment that was lost. Last I heard the group was soliciting donations to be able to replace it all, but nothing was mentioned about the church putting up funds for the group. That would be the real miracle!

Merry Christmas!
(Shared in the most temporal and pagan way possible)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I am so blessed

I was watching an interview with a professional athlete recently and he said of winning a recent game and his performance that he is "so blessed". When I hear this it just grates on me like nails scratched on a chalkboard. I understand that being thankful is important and can definitely cheer us up when we're down, but the whole concept of God being the ultimate source of all our blessings (and choosing to label beneficial happenings as such) just rubs me the wrong way.

You see, to me, saying you are blessed means that God sent favorable happenings in your direction instead of mine. Obviously one could argue that I am blessed just as much, but in different things. For some reason I don't buy this explanation. For the athlete, there is so much time and dedication put out in the form of practicing and training that it should be no wonder they are "blessed" with a good performance in one game or several. I was fortunate to be born in the USA so I had a leg up when pursuing the American dream, having started out in America and all. When I think of those outside my country and circumstances, however, like someone in Africa for example, I get an entirely different reaction. If God is the source of all our blessings, why does he play such favorites?

When I ask this question to people like my wife who believe in God, and believe that god has one favored true church on the earth, the response is that everyone's conditions may seem different here, but in the hereafter we'll see how equitable it all was. This might be, but should we always assume that when there appears to us to be inequality in the world, we should just turn a blind eye and hope everything will be settled in the hereafter? I think this belief can lead to being taken advantage of in the least and outright defrauded or killed (and having it be said that it was god's will) at the worst.

The funny thing to me is that those members who do take advantage of others seem to move up in the ranks of the church fastest, while those that let others take advantage of them because of a belief in the equitable hereafter seem to be the lowest on the totem pole as far as callings (and blessings) go. Obviously this is possibly a gross generalization on my part, but it can be shown true in many cases (Like when Henry B. Eyring says he was blessed to be able to sell a very valuable extra piece of property he just happened to have sitting around in his portfolio of assets). Of course I realize I sound like a bitter apostate in this, but I just can't continue to accept that there is a director or choreographer (or whatever people claim God's role to actually be in our lives) out there divvying up blessings here and there based on some, as yet unknown, standard of fairness. I guess we can either accept that because "the" standard of fairness is not known it must not exist (which would be a perfectly natural conclusion) or we can say that it does in spite of appearances to the contrary, but we just don't know what it is.

This goes back to the question of faith I explored in a previous post wherein I ask what is the purpose of faith. Until and unless someone can show me that there is ultimately a benefit in the hereafter for exercising faith (instead of, or in addition to, reason) in the here and now, I will choose to follow reason and rely on my intellect instead of placing faith in a hereafter that has yet to be proven even exists let alone knowing that when it is revealed everything will be shown to have been perfectly equitable.

On top of that, I cannot relate to this God of whom so many speak. When you say that God is my heavenly father, I naturally try to relate to him by placing myself in his circumstances and asking myself, if I were god would I treat my children this way? The answer most of the time is no friggin' way! It turns out there is much that God does that I cannot relate to, because if it were up to me, things would be wayyy different here.

On a different note, I went and looked up the word mammon (duh, I probably should have done that before I wrote and posted my views on the word) and it doesn't mean "the world" but means riches or material wealth (which could be considered part of the world, right?). I guess that changes my whole outlook...does that scripture mean I have to choose between the god of riches (mammon) and the Hebrew god of...poverty? I think I'll choose to avoid following a god that advocates poverty thank you very much. Makes me wonder what is up with all the admonitions against riches in the bible. I have heard some say (no doubt trying to find the work around to this teaching in order to have riches but still live the spirit of the law) that it is the "love of money" that is to be avoided and not just money or the pursuit of it in itself. But if you desire to pursue money don't you kind of have to love it? If one believes the bible and teachings of Jesus it seems as though it is better to avoid the temptation and seek a life of poverty than to seek riches and be subject to so much temptation. Jesus would say don't worry about stuff...all your needs will be taken care of...just let things take care of will be blessed. Then a modern day leader of the lds church would say, "See, all those people that went out on missions early in church history were taken care of." However, if I go out today and take nothing with me and embark on a journey across the country, I could probably survive on the charity of others for a very long time, but is that any kind of life worth living? Living on somebody else's dime your entire life does not bring confidence and self respect, it robs you of it.

I can see some sense in saying that riches can never bring true happiness, but I sure wouldn't mind testing out that theory ;-).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thoughts on mammon

My wife says that it is difficult to serve two masters, that I will eventually have to decide one way or the other; to either get back into the church or remove myself entirely from it. Of course, I cannot ever truly remove myself entirely from it if I want to stay married to a woman who is active in the church, but I digress. I think this philosophy only creates a line in the sand mentality and causes divide among people in the world who are just trying to get along and do what they think is right. This thought has caused me to think upon the scripture the thought is based on, man cannot serve two masters, man eventually has to decide between God and mammon. I am not 100% sure about my definition of mammon, but I think the word has been generally used to describe "the world". Especially since there is a teaching about being in "the world" but not of "the world".

It seems like nobody really questions this teaching or its underlying assumption that "the world" is evil. So who is this "the world" anyway? If I ask people who cite this teaching or prescribe to it, it is always defined as a nebulous place "out there" or "all the bad stuff". So, if I press for some specific examples of the influence of "the world" what do I get? Is your neighbor of "the world"? Are your co-workers of "the world"? Some might say yes, but if I ask which one's, what do I get? Lots of hemming and hawing and excuses about how "the world" can't be described as any individual but a nebulous group of people "somewhere", "out there" who are influenced by the devil to promote his works. So which people belong to this group? Oh, you know, the murderers, rapists, etc. bad people. You mean the one's in prison? Yes, those people. So are we supposed to go and hang out in prisons, then, to be "in" "the world" but not "of" "the world"? It only gets more ridiculous until the point where the believer begins bearing their testimony to me about the existence of "the world" and that they believe the scripture is true telling them to be "in" "the world" but not "of" "the world". Essentially the believers put their fingers in their ears and begin yelling "la la la la" really loud and saying they can't hear me anymore.

I have a TBM friend who recently invited me to read his blog. Other than a nice layout the content was pretty boring. In one entry he talked about going to Best Buy early in the morning on black Friday and that there was a youth group there from a local church that was handing out hot chocolate. He observed that some people in line (to get into the store, before they opened) gave the youth a hard time because they wondered aloud why the youth were not in Africa with other missionaries trying to do what they were doing. Basically my friend felt bad because he didn't do a better job of standing up for the youth and he wondered why our world seems to be so anti-religion. Of course, his reaction was to silently criticize those apparent anti-religionists and wonder why the world had to be so evil.

I had a glimmer of hope that he might begin to touch on what I see is the larger issue at hand. And that is, why is it that people who go about doing good things must advertise the fact that they belong to a certain church/religion? I was curious as I passed the local baptist church on my way to work the other day where their sign outside said (I'm paraphrasing), "Our mission is to seek Jesus and teach others to do so" (it was put somewhat more elegantly on the sign and my paraphrase doesn't do it justice). In my opinion, it is the constant proselytizing and attempts to convert others that may actually be the crux of the problem. I wonder if those youth that belonged to that church could have done the same service without announcing to everyone which church they belonged to and announcing who or what they were serving on behalf of? I wonder how the result may have been different had they done that?

It seems to me that Jesus would be more inclined to have people go about doing good works without anyone knowing what church or religion you belong to, but rather I think Jesus' idea was to just go about doing good for the sake of making the world a better place. Instead, attempts to serve are darkened by the advertisement of the church that is doing the serving. It reminds me of those trailers that are setup at freeway rest stops during holiday travel days that have signs that say "Free Coffee and cookies", but when you get up there to have some, they push a donation cup in your face and have signs all over advertising who is offering this "free" stuff. I understand that this is the way the world works, but it doesn't seem very Christ-like to me. If only Christians understood what Jesus was trying to tell them, don't hide your good works, but you don't need to go about doing them with the intent of converting those that you serve.

I guess this is how advocates of religion define being "in" "the world" but not "of" "the world". They place themselves in situations they call service to others, but they attach strings of advertising what group they represent and almost make the acceptance of the service a conditional acceptance of their invitation to come to their church some day.

If only they were sincere in their pronouncements that you can come and receive spiritual nourishment at their church and didn't want to tell you how important it is to buy into the concept of tithing (paid to their church only) if you want to adequately demonstrate your faithfulness to their brand of God.

So do you take the hot chocolate or not? Right now I am inclined to not do so because of the strings attached, but maybe if I was hungry enough or cold enough I would consider it. This conclusion causes me to think about the question of guilt. Since I was proud of myself for recognizing that guilt had no power over me when I began my journey out of belief in the church, I told my wife that at one point. I said, I don't really feel any guilt anymore. Of course, she freaked out at this because then she wondered what terrible thing I would do because I had no guilt anymore. So, why do I feel guilt about taking hot chocolate from a church youth but I don't feel guilt about not going to church or believing in Mormonism anymore? I will have to ponder on this some more and see what my subconscious helps me come up with. I probably need to do some more field work by being "of" "the world" and see what I come up with. I really don't think "the world" is such a bad place after all.