Tidbits from the Humanist, A.C. Grayling: Grayling, A. C.. The God Argument (pp. 248-249). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
For the thousand years of Christian domination of the mind of Europe there was little ethical thinking – religion had all the answers, and enforced them, not encouraging question or challenge, or efforts to think about foundational matters unless they conformed to (indeed, deferred to) the authority of the faith –
– but when minds began again to be free in the birth of the modern world from the sixteenth century onwards, there was a return to these essential questions, and the Socratic mood was able to revive.
That mood is the humanist one: to question, to consider, to take responsibility for choices, to work things out in the conversation of society about how the good is to be realised. –
To put matters at their simplest, the major reason for the continuance of religious belief in a world which might otherwise have long moved beyond it, is indoctrination of children before they reach the age of reason, together with all or some combination of social pressure to conform, social reinforcement of religious institutions and traditions, emotion, and (it has to be said) ignorance – of science, of psychology, of history in general, and of the history and actual doctrines of religions themselves.
Religion, by contrast, is expressly premised on the idea of an external, supernatural source of moral authority. In the standard case it is held that the agencies which possess this authority are personally interested in having humankind conform itself to their purposes; and the religions in which they figure further teach that petition and sacrifice can influence those purposes.
All the faiths employ prayer, ritual and sacrifice to achieve this, the last ranging from the repetition of religious formulae to slitting the throats of sacrificial victims. Unless an outlook premises the existence and interest of one or more supernatural beings, and claims that the utmost importance attaches to believing in them and responding to their requirements, it cannot be called a religion.
This, to repeat, is why neither Buddhism in its original Theravada form, nor Confucianism, are religions; they are philosophies, and atheistic ones in the literal sense of this term.
The same applies to Stoicism, as we saw; for half a millennium before Constantine, Stoicism was the outlook of most educated people in the Hellenic and Roman world. Their principle of reason (the logos) as the ordering principle of the world is a principle of rational structure, of rightness and fittingness in the natural order, to which ethical endeavour – so they argued – should conform itself. The Stoics did not worship or petition the logos, and did not think of it as a person or as conscious or purposive. It would have to have been regarded as these things if it was to qualify as a god, and for interest in it to count as a religion.
It was many years after I embraced feminism in the 1970s before I felt drawn to the Heavenly Mother, before I felt any emotional connection to even the idea of her.
Priesthood first stirred my desire, a desire to be endowed with the power of God. To be imbued with the light and love of God’s spirit seemed a reasonable spiritual goal for an eager student of the scriptures, for someone seeking after righteousness, as I was in my twenties and thirties. Shouldn’t a person want to reach for the faith of Abraham?
Little did I realize how audacious my spiritual yearnings were—until I was set straight by male priesthood leaders. Of course by that time, my feminism had taught me both to critique power and to claim it—which is one reason it was more difficult for me to claim the Divine Mother as an embodiment of my spiritual ideal, since there are notable ways in which LDS iterations of the Divine Mother lack power. But I know there must be other reasons too, and I have often pondered what they might be, since I like being a mother and grandmother very much. And I try hard to do a good job, though I don’t see myself as any kind of model. I often feel my children have done more for me than I for them.
There seem to be at least two major reasons why I have been put off by motherhood—heavenly or earthly: first, my ambivalent feelings about my own mother have always made me feel less than enthusiastic about motherhood as some exalted status; and second, motherhood is defined in Church discourse in such a way that it becomes the sum total of a woman’s identity. She is to be a mother first, even if she is not literally a mother.
All other aspects of a woman’s personhood, all of her talents and desires, are to be subordinated to that one role. And that role is defined so narrowly that it feels only superficial, sentimental, and saccharine in the worst kind of way, where sweet ideals are used to control women’s behavior and to encourage women to use control on others, manipulating to get their way indirectly.
Women mostly have been made to bear the burden of everyday care: the grunt work of cleaning, food preparation, childcare—the burden of always being required to do the kind of service work necessary for any home or business to function well. Now, I believe I should do my fair share of jobs like cleaning the toilet, but I also have a lifelong fear of being so overwhelmed with such mundane tasks that I will never have the energy left to think or write or produce anything else worthwhile.
It was a long process for me to connect with the Heavenly Mother. I had to start first by admiring other aspects of the Feminine Divine. I found myself attracted to pagan goddesses—their pictures and stories and images: I love Inanna, Isis, Aphrodite, Athena, and Demeter—goddesses of wisdom and love and power. (It should be no surprise that I do not connect much with Hera, the jealous goddess of marriage, or Hestia, the goddess of home and hearth.)
The next step for me was to allow myself to feel angry at my own mother for the way she gave up her personhood, the way she retreated to her bedroom in defeat. And I had to acknowledge my anger at the Heavenly Mother too; it felt like she had abdicated her place, just like my own mother. Then finally I had to allow myself to feel the full weight of my anger against the patriarchal system that set both my mothers up for failure, the system that undergirds not only the Mormon religion but every aspect of a culture that privileges maleness. I did not really do this until after my excommunication in November, 2000.
I did not realize how much I had preferred the male god and male hero figures, how I had subconsciously blamed women for their weakness, especially myself. Understanding and compassion have always been fundamental values for me, so it was hard to admit all of this anger I felt raging inside. But it has been healing to work through this anger. It has helped me feel the Divine Feminine in myself, to see myself more compassionately, and to hear the voice of the Feminine Divine in my soul.
My ability to perceive the Mother God at work in the world has been aided, too, by the stories women and men have shared with me of her presence in their lives, by their visions of her power. It surprised me when I first began to have a fierce longing to be the Heavenly Mother’s champion, to make others see that we have as much need for her as we do for a Heavenly Father or a male Savior. I want us to acknowledge that she is as vital for our spiritual and temporal salvation as is the male God.
For me, it does not matter whether we believe literally in the Heavenly Mother or not. She still stands as a crucial symbol for the power, voice, and status of Mormon women, really women everywhere. As French feminist Luce Irigaray argues, “as long as woman lacks a divine made in her image she cannot establish her subjectivity or achieve . . . an ideal that would be her goal or path in becoming.”
And what should this divine image look like? A Mother? Here is the crucial issue for me, the issue that has torn me apart, and that tears women apart so often: We are pitted against ourselves and each other. On the one hand, to accept motherhood, even heavenly motherhood, as an ideal is to acquiesce to a reduced sense of self, as though all we women are made for is motherhood, forever and ever.
Even if we like being mothers, this can sound like a prison sentence. On the other hand, to reject motherhood as a role for women, or to see it as insignificant, is to turn against the cycles of our own bodies and against what is a life-altering experience for the majority of women who have lived. I do not mean by this assertion that a woman who has never borne a child is less of a woman—not at all, for I don’t think it is possible for a woman to be more or less of a woman than she simply is. It is just that we women seem always caught in a simplistic and false dichotomy: to embrace motherhood and be sucked into a patriarchal value system, or to reject motherhood and thus devalue most women’s work and experience.
My underlying objection to Heavenly Mother as she is portrayed in LDS Church discourse is that she promotes this damaging split. She is used as a vapid placeholder in a system that subordinates women to men through a rigid priesthood structure that controls resources and knowledge.
This is nowhere more obvious than in the Church’s Proclamation on the Family. There the Heavenly Mother is not even mentioned by name; she is just one of our “heavenly parents,” while the Heavenly Father’s authority is highlighted and personalized. The barely visible mother “parent” is only used to reinforce women’s one role in the eternal plan of salvation: to nurture children. I believe in the importance of nurturing; it reflects my feminist concern with putting the well-being of others on an equal footing with my own.
Care for others and for the world around me is central to my idea of social justice. I just think men should bear the burden of this responsibility equally with women. But in the Proclamation on the Family, the patriarchal father is the presiding authority who alone also protects and provides, which makes any kind of equal partnership between the sexes impossible. The Heavenly Mother has no life independent of her function to promote patriarchal, heterosexual marriage and the offspring that come from it.
Silence surrounds the image of the Mormon Mother God. Will she ever be more than a reproducer of billions of spirit children or an unspoken prohibition? In May 2011, in her blog on ReligionDispatches.org, Joanna Brooks asked: “Is Heavenly Mother Making a Comeback in Mormonism?” Brooks reported what she sees as a promising loosening of the taboo against talking about the Heavenly Mother in LDS meetings and publications. I hope that she is right. But I also fear that Mother in Heaven is only re-emerging as the anonymous female parent in a patriarchal marriage meant to reinforce the Church’s conservative stand on marriage.1I am skeptical that a lifting of silence about the Heavenly Mother is a positive sign for the improvement of women’s place in the LDS Church.
In their recent BYU Studies article titled “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Heavenly Mother,” David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido argue that there is no official prohibition against discussing the Heavenly Mother in the LDS Church; there is only a ban on praying to her. The implication of their argument is that the general authorities of the Church are not the source of the popular notion that members should not talk about the Mother in Heaven because she is too sacred, but rather that this is a popular misperception that the research in the article intends to correct. In a biographical box with Paulsen’s picture, he expresses his perplexity at the idea of “sacred silence” surrounding the Heavenly Mother, saying that this concept does not square with his own life experience in the Church.
I applaud Paulsen and Pulido for speaking out and publishing on this important topic; I believe in their good intentions. I hope that their article encourages more open discussion about the Heavenly Mother in LDS Church meetings, as well as more devotion toward her. Paulsen has also written about the Mormon doctrine of a Female Deity in other contexts in ways that show that he cares deeply about the Mother in Heaven and is not apologetic about claiming this unique Mormon doctrine in front of other Christians, evangelical or mainline.
Nevertheless, I must respectfully disagree with him. I believe that his privileged position within the mainstream Church as a male professor at BYU blinds him to both the official and unofficial practice of silence on the topic of the Heavenly Mother, as well as to the effects of this silencing that are experienced by those on the margins, especially women.
Paulsen and Pulido are right, of course, that there is not an official statement from the First Presidency or general authorities forbidding discussion about our Mother in Heaven. This does not mean, however, that there is no official silence surrounding the Heavenly Mother. Even if Church leaders have not officially prohibited discourse about the Mother God, the absence of references to her by top leaders in general conference and other official Church venues speaks volumes to the members of the Church, who take their cues from those highest in authority.
Leaders set policy not only by words and proclamations, but even more by example. The general authorities’ almost total silence about the Heavenly Mother is a signal to leaders all the way down the chain of authority and to members, who follow suit, since obedience to leaders is of utmost importance in the Church.
Paulsen and Pulido feel that it is significant for their thesis that they have found more than 600 references to the Mother in Heaven since 1844 in official and academic discourse. Even if these were all authoritative statements readily available to the Saints, which does not seem to be the case, still 600 references are not abundance, but extreme poverty. This represents the absence, not the presence, of the Heavenly Mother in Mormon discourse and practice. To illustrate this point, let me contrast the references to male deity in just two days of general conference with the total number of references to our female deity in the 167 years of our history since 1844. Using conference talks from April 2011, I counted references to male deity, using the terms “God,” “Lord,” “Heavenly Father,” “Holy Ghost,” and some combination of “Jesus” and “Christ.” There were over 900 such references in the five sessions of conference in those two days alone.
The staggering contrast between 900 in one conference and 600 in 167 years is a stark testimony to the difference in value the Church gives to male and female deities, and by analogy to male and female roles. And the absence of references to Heavenly Mother indicates her insignificant position in Mormon theology, cosmology, and worship. As Holly Robbins points out, even Satan gets more air time than the Mother in Heaven.
And what we emphasize shows what we value. We are more concerned with the negative power of the Devil in our lives than the positive power of the Heavenly Mother. Even when leaders do talk about her, they almost never stress the magnitude of her work among us, or even that she is working for our salvation. Rather, she is put forth as a model of motherhood to reinforce this role for women.
Significantly, at certain points in the April 2011 general conference where it would have been natural for a leader to mention the Heavenly Mother, or at least the heavenly parents, there was an absence. Elder Quentin Cook gave a talk called “LDS Women Are Incredible!” where he makes the following statement: “Women are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves them. Wives are equal to their husbands. Marriage requires a full partnership.”
I wonder how many noticed the irony of the juxtaposition of his sentences. If marriage (to say nothing of parenting) requires full partnership, then why not emphasize the partnership of the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother? Why doesn’t the Church tell the girls and women to repeat the statement, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother” if partnership in marriage and child rearing is so important? To say that there is no prohibition against discussing the Mother in Heaven overlooks actual practice in the Church, on both a general and local level. The deafening silence of leaders on the topic of the Heavenly Mother amounts to an unofficial prohibition. And the absence of the Divine Mother reflects the value Church leaders place on women themselves and the Church’s reductive view of what motherhood means. Like the Heavenly Mother, Mormon women should be silent, hidden from public view, and have no part in governance.
The Church’s position is also evident on the official lds.org website. When I began researching my ideas for this piece in July 2011, I perused the Church’s website to see if there would be any acknowledgment about the Mormon Heavenly Mother doctrine. On the initial page, there were flashing pictures with captions that emphasized three Church doctrines: “God Is Our Father”; “The Way of the Disciple,” focusing on the gospel of Jesus Christ; and “Make Time for the Temple,” emphasizing the eternal nature of the family. After clicking on “God is Our Father,” I found sub-headings with hyper-links to further discussions, such as “Our Heavenly Father’s Plan,” “We Lived with God,” and “We Can Live with God Again.”
Among all of this, in small letters, was the statement, “All human beings are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and each has a divine nature and destiny.” There was no link explaining more about these “heavenly parents.” An important part of these web pages about God the Father was a series of pictures of members from all over the world with their testimonies about the reality of Heavenly Father and their gratitude and love for him. Not one of them mentioned “heavenly parents,” let alone the Heavenly Mother, though they talked about being literal children of God.
All of this evidence points to the fact that the official Church has indeed taken a stance about the Heavenly Mother. Silence about her implies at least an unofficial prohibition. And yet, by arguing that there is no such official position, Paulsen and Pulido divert responsibility away from the general authorities. The conclusion seems to be that it is not our highest leaders’ problem and that they do not need to address the issue of the “sacred silence” about the Heavenly Mother. The burden is then shifted to local leaders, implying that if a local leader reprimands a member for discussing the Mother in Heaven, he is simply uninformed, not following Church policy. Would a general authority, however, take up the cause of some woman who was disciplined by a local leader on this issue?
The fact that actual appeals sent to general authorities are almost always denied, supporting the local leaders, says no. Women sense this, as is evident from blog posts where many talk about the fear they feel discussing the Heavenly Mother in a Church context, or even in the bloggernacle under their real names. This is a very legitimate fear. Just recently I talked to a woman in Orem who had her temple recommend taken away last year for claiming a revelation about the Heavenly Mother. Interestingly, this was not something she talked about in a Church meeting. She confessed it privately to her stake president and bishop after being reported by her visiting teachers.
Insisting on silence about the Heavenly Mother is not about reverence for that which is too sacred for discussion, nor does it promote reverence for the mothering role. After all, the temple is considered sacred, but there are talks about its importance all the time and pictures everywhere to keep the significance of the temple before our eyes. Silence about the Heavenly Mother is due to her controversial nature because the idea of a Divine Female has buried in it possibilities for women beyond motherhood. The purpose, or at least the effect, of the kind of silence that currently surrounds the Mother in Heaven is the erasure of her as anything other than the subordinate parent she is currently represented as in Mormon discourse.
It is important to note that most of the references to the Heavenly Mother cited by Paulsen and Pulido occur before the 1960s. All of the LDS hymns referencing her (there are at least five) were written during that time period, too. And significantly, other than “O My Father” (changed from its previous name, “Invocation to the Eternal Father and Mother”), most of these hymns are not sung on a regular basis. The decreasing number of references to the Heavenly Mother over the years seems to reinforce what scholars like me have speculated about the declining discourse surrounding the Mother in Heaven: that it reflects the Church’s desire to appear more Christian, to assert a Trinitarian view of God, which the Heavenly Mother disrupts; and is also a response to feminists who see the Mother God as evidence for women’s expanded, eternal personhood.
Another implication of Paulsen’s and Pulido’s assertion that there is no official Church silencing in regard to the Heavenly Mother is that women who complain about her absence are simply trouble-makers who like to blame men. It says our concerns are not real, not important. We don’t need any more talk about the Heavenly Mother; there is plenty already. Therefore, if we get in trouble with the Church for talking about the Mother in Heaven, it is our own fault; we are to blame. I have actually had men say something like this to me, with the implied accusation that because they have never gotten in trouble for talking about the Heavenly Mother, the censure and punishment I have encountered must be due to what I have said about her and how I have said it, not at all the simple fact of my speaking. I admit there is truth in this assertion.
Feminists like me insist that the Heavenly Mother is not simply a heavenly housewife, nor one mother among countless other polygamous wives of the Heavenly Father.She is a goddess of power and might who can speak for herself, who in fact speaks to her children, and who insists on the right of her daughters to speak for themselves too. Without these voices, divine and human, the female perspective is missing in the Church and women are diminished. When women are punished for speaking about the Heavenly Mother, she is punished, too, for our fates are intertwined.
Paulsen and Pulido also address the question of the role of the Heavenly Mother as it appears in official discourse. They argue that there is evidence that she is not limited to the “reproductive role.” She is a divine person in her own right. She is co-creator and co-framer of the plan of salvation along with the Father. She is also involved in our lives here in mortality. Again, I applaud them for trying to expand the role of the Mother in Heaven from the popular perception. However, note the language that Paulsen and Pulido use. They call her “co-creator” and “co-framer.”
The Father is never limited as co-creator or co-anything. We do not need to search long and hard to find testimonies of his divinity, his many divine attributes, and his work in our creation, salvation, and redemption. And it is again important to note that almost all of the references to the exalted status of the Heavenly Mother are found in early sources, before the 1960s. In contrast, most of the more recent references found by Paulsen and Pulido do not even speak of the Heavenly Mother directly, but rather indirectly as one of our “heavenly parents,” as seen in the Proclamation on the Family.
One of the very few general conference references to the Heavenly Mother by that title was made by Gordon B. Hinckley during the 1991 general Relief Society meeting. The main purpose of his remarks was to emphasize the inappropriateness of praying to the Mother in Heaven. While he acknowledges her existence and does not directly forbid discussions of her, Hinckley does put the lid on such discussions with the following remark, which I find odd because of its mixed message: “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her . . . . None of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.”
While acknowledging the “glory” of the Mother in Heaven, President Hinckley asserts there is no revealed knowledge about her. The implication is that since nothing has been revealed about her, there is nothing we can really say about her—that anything we do say is merely speculation and therefore dangerous. Perhaps other women have had this argument thrown in their faces, as I have. Its intent is to close all discussion about the nature of the Female Divinity.
Moreover, forbidding prayer to Heavenly Mother also implies that worshipping or honoring her in other ways is out of line for Church members as well. But to not worship or even show gratitude to her is to downplay her role significantly. It takes away from her divinity, and it does in fact diminish her glory, not her actual glory of course but what we attribute to her. It diminishes our view of the cosmic and salvific roles the Divine Mother plays in our lives, and therefore our access to and understanding of her. That there is a lot of nervousness not only about praying to Heavenly Mother, but about worshipping and discussing her, is shown in the 2008 Dialogue article by Kevin L. Barney, titled “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated).” Using the biblical scholarship of Margaret Barker as a foundation, as well as the work of Daniel Peterson from BYU, Barney argues that the worship of the Mother God by the name of Asherah was legitimate at one time among the Hebrews.
While I appreciate Barney’s attempt to legitimize Heavenly Mother discussion and worship, I think it is significant that he never quotes, footnotes, or references any Mormon feminists, other than Linda Wilcox, who have written about the Mother in Heaven. He also ignores the broader scholarship about the Divine Female from liberal feminist theologians. The lesson seems to be that the way to avoid excommunication is to make sure you are a male who cites sources acceptable to farms.
One of my objections to Paulsen, Pulido, Barney, and Peterson is that they further marginalize all the women who have bravely spoken up for the Heavenly Mother over the years. Not to footnote women scholars and writers is tantamount to erasing their names and work, as anyone in the academy knows. Whether these male scholars intend to or not, their discourse about the Mother in Heaven silences women by appropriating her for the male system and by demonstrating that discourse about the Heavenly Mother is more acceptable when it comes through men.
What those like David Paulsen do not understand, or at least do not acknowledge, is that there is a deep-seated power issue involved in Heavenly Mother discourse. It is acceptable for men to talk about her, even in Church-approved venues, because their position in the hierarchy and the way they frame their discussion keeps her solidly within the patriarchal structure where she is subordinated to male divinities and male priesthood power in every way. Women like myself, or my sister Janice Allred, or many others, such as those in Maxine Hanks’ volume Women and Authority, speak their knowledge and love of the Divine Mother in their own voices by their own authority. The spiritual power of our testimonies challenges the exclusive hold of male leaders over knowledge about the Heavenly Mother.
For this reason, I believe that an on-going counter-discourse to the male, Church-acceptable discourse is absolutely necessary for the elevation of the Heavenly Mother’s status. It is a way we women can redefine the meaning of heavenly and earthly motherhood. It is a way we have of expanding the roles and nature of Female Divinity, and our own too. We must keep constructing Heavenly Mother theologies that creatively help us rethink the nature of divine and human personhood.
I have come to call myself a skeptical believer. At the deep core of my soul, I believe in the reality of the spiritual world and the divine, and yet I always doubt too, in part because I am very nervous about dogmatism and blindness. Still, I must confess that I love the Divine Female even if she is a fictional character, for even as a human construct, she still has great power to shape our ideas about what women can and should be, as do all of our perceptions and images of God.
The Heavenly Mother, as I know her, stands as a reproach to the male-dominated corporate Church.
She is a fierce defender of the weak and the outcast.
She is an advocate for the voices of women.
She comes to their aid, as seen in the reports of women themselves.
She is not at the bidding of Church leaders.
They may tell members they cannot pray to her, but she shows up in the name of the Father all the time—and in her own name as well, to those who dare call on it.
She does not care about the misuse of her name because she is more than we can name.
She does her own work. She is nobody’s baby and everybody’s baby.
She cannot be used but allows all to use her.
No one can stop her work.
She cannot be domesticated.
She will yet come red in her apparel with an innumerable company of female angels.
She is magnificent, beautiful, glorious, wonderful, powerful, and abundantly divine.
She is Sophia the wise, Eve the fearless, Mary the merciful.
She is a Creator and Redeemer.
She is the Dove, the Holy Spirit who broods over her children like a mother hen.
She cares about mothering because she cares about the suffering of her children; she works for their salvation and eternal life. She is our great High Priestess. Her presence not only demands priesthood for women but equality and dignity for all her children.
The most troubling aspect of the LDS motherhood rhetoric, both as it applies to the Heavenly Mother and her daughters, is the damage it does to all women’s identities, whether they have children or not. To be told that nurturing is my one primary duty, implying I am wrong to aspire to others, feels deeply confining, so out of step with the LDS doctrine of eternal progression.
I think this is an underlying, if hidden, reason Julie Beck’s talk about motherhood caused such a stir in the fall of 2007. The more obvious reason is that the language she used conjured up images of perfect moms from TV sitcoms of the 1950s, but decked out in a new church dress. She equated “nurturing” with “homemaking” and “homemaking” with “cooking, washing clothes and dishes, keeping an orderly home.” Her tone felt almost militant, as though there is only one “righteous” way to approach mothering, which was offensive even to conservative women.
In what seemed to be a response to the negative reaction against Beck’s talk, apostle M. Russell Ballard gave his own talk about the challenges of motherhood for women in the subsequent April conference. There he asserted that, even though he has never been a mother, he knows “there is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique.” He acknowledged that many women either must work outside the home or want to at some period of their lives. He stressed that the most important thing is “that a mother loves her children deeply . . . and prioritizes them above all else.” He acknowledged how frustrating mothering can be, especially when children are young. He encouraged mothers to find time for themselves and “cultivate their gifts and interests.” And he ended by praying “that God will continually bless the women of the Church to find joy and happiness in their sacred roles as daughters of God.”
I do not want to take away from the inspiration of Ballard’s talk, which I believe has been very encouraging for women in the Church and has helped them see their personal value. I agree with almost everything he says. Even so, I must point out, for the sake of women’s worth, that Ballard validates women within the patriarchal structure of the Proclamation on the Family, where women’s primary role is still nurturing and motherhood.
Yes, they also have “sacred roles as daughters of God,” as Ballard points out. But the descriptor “daughters of God,” not even daughters of heavenly parents or of Heavenly Father and Mother, emphasizes women’s ancillary status once again. What would it be like for women and men, girls and boys, to hear other phrases spoken by both female and male leaders? To hear references to women’s sacred roles as priestesses of God, or their sacred roles as healers, or revelators, or prophetesses, or their sacred roles as poets, teachers, scientists, scholars—whatever might emphasize a diversity of roles and spiritual power?
Women’s motherhood role in the Church is almost always juxtaposed with men’s priesthood role. It is once again the reductive quality of this false equation that is so disturbing. The motherhood-priesthood rhetoric hides women’s real spiritual contributions to the Church at large because it makes their service in the organization invisible to a large degree, at that same time that the priesthood structure limits women’s organizational power that could give their service broader scope and more real power.
Both the rhetoric and structure make it appear as though women perform no spiritual or priest-like functions, or that they shouldn’t if they are mothering correctly. This adds another layer of guilt to women’s already overburdened consciences. Beck’s talk suggests that if we find influence and power outside the realm of mothering in the home, then we are on the wrong track. Motherhood and priesthood are juxtaposed in Church rhetoric as though they are equal roles in both function and value, but they are not.
Many recent talks about women’s place in the Church emphasize the phrase “equal partners” from the Proclamation on the Family. I believe this phrase is deeply deceptive (at the same time I want to acknowledge that many couples in the Church are striving to make this a reality, despite the ways the Church’s structure works against it). “Equal partners” is a deceptive phrase because it makes it seem as though Mormon women are fully equal if they are equal partners with men in the home, even if they are not equal in the public arena. Dallin H. Oaks admitted in a 2005 conference talk that the concept of “equal partners” for women and men only applies to the home and not to the Church organization.
On one level this is obvious, but on another it is an appalling admission since it reveals the hollowness of the motherhood-priesthood dichotomy put forth to demonstrate the equally important roles of men and women. Oaks’ statement also reveals how inequality in the Church structure promotes inequality in the home too, since men are to preside there as priesthood leaders. If motherhood were really the equivalent of priesthood, then its influence would not be confined to the home. If mothers are so vital, where is the council of mothers, either in heaven or on earth, to promote nurture, care, and right relationship at every level of the Church and in the world at large?
If Church leaders really cared about motherhood, they would put their money where their mouth is. Councils of women in the Church who had real authority and resources could think of many creative ways of helping mothers with their most pressing problems, which they themselves could identify. The only suggestion M. Russell Ballard had for helping young mothers was that leaders should be sensitive about giving them too many Church callings. How about asking women what they need? They are intelligent and inventive.
If the Church did nothing more than redirect all the resources used to fight the legalization of gay marriage, there would be plenty of money, time, and energy available to help mothers and children. Gay marriage is not a threat to the family, but poverty is. There are plenty of financial wizards in the LDS community who could come up with creative corporate solutions to vexing problems. For instance, no child in the Church should be without health insurance. If we still believed in the principles of Zion, we would band together to make sure that mothers who desired could stay home with their children during their early years. We could at least insure a six-month leave.
Gay marriage is not a threat to the family, but isolation and depression are. Mothers need places where they can take children for activities with other children, as well as having opportunities to interact with other women in a less formal setting than church meetings. For years, women have been saying how LDS chapels that stand empty during the week would be great places for daycare. No family can survive without quality childcare, whether the mother works outside the home or not. With high gas prices and economic crunches, local chapels would be perfect places where mothers could meet to chat while their children played together. I heard recently that women have received permission for these kinds of weekday activities in some wards in Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Idaho, where women exercise in the cultural hall while their children play nearby. Constructive ideas of this nature, generated by women’s real needs, could be a standard offering, not required but available in all areas in the Church.
Gay marriage is not a threat to the family, but violence and war profiteering are. Why hasn’t the Church mustered its resources to speak out more against war? If we really cared so much about motherhood, we would be concerned about mothers and children all over the world, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
This motherhood rhetoric in the Church makes me angry, and I think other Mormon women should be angry too, and without apology. It makes us all feel inadequate and makes us critical of each other in non-productive ways. We need more protest because the bottom line is that this kind of rhetoric is not at all about the valuing of mothers or the mothering role. If it were, the Heavenly Mother would be more visible. The motherhood is “near to divinity” slogan that Russell M. Nelson spouted in his 1999 conference talk “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women” is simply manipulative.
How near to divinity? Not near enough, in my opinion. Motherhood has no divinity if Heavenly Mother is not an equal partner in the creation and salvation of the world. Motherhood’s proximity to divinity is useless to us if the Heavenly Mother is not directly involved in our lives, if we cannot have access to her in prayer.
I believe in paradox, that self-discovery is a life-long, even eternal task that pushes beyond simple dichotomies, formulas, or roles. Power is dangerous but important because it is a principle of action. In giving it up, I may find it. My worth is more than even my identity as a daughter of a Heavenly Mother and Father. God says, “I am that I am.” What an intriguing self-description! I am worthwhile because I am alive now and eternally. I have often thought how silly it is that I should give up all my personal dreams for learning and achieving so that I can mother daughters who will give up what they want to mother daughters who will give up what they want in some endless chain where all that is achieved is the perpetuation of a mindless human race and the subordination of women.
I like the line from the “What Women Know” proclamation, written in response to Julie Beck’s talk: “the life story we are ultimately responsible for is our own.” It is not just that I am more than my roles as mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, scholar, or countless others; the truth is that I am more than anything I do or achieve or say or believe or even know about myself. Because our souls are eternal, our identities are ever unfolding in ways that we choose but often do not choose or understand. And the beauty and excitement of the journey is in the very process of discovering and becoming and desiring. Like power, desire is dangerous, but so necessary for development. I fear Mormon women and men are afraid to desire what is not prescribed. What I resist most about rigid roles and formulas of behavior, like that of motherhood, is that such constructs stop us from desiring, from longing for the unknown, from seeking the mysteries within our own hearts, and from exploring our complex relationship to the wide expanse of the universe of which we are a living and changing part.
Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while Martin Harris acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat.
He was a charlatan, a pious fraud, a liar, adulterer, money digger and whatever else we offendeds can bring to pass in our minds as to why we’ve been had from the get-go. Whether, as was I, we were taken to a Saturday night baptism in the 50’s or 60’s by relatives who wanted theirs and our blessings within the kingdom, or whether in a moment of spiritually emotional conversion it all seemed so true and we joined up, the consequence of those moments was a more detailed immersion in the Church narrative which proposed what I have referred to frequently as the “true-churchiness of it all.”
Yeah yeah yeah … that’s how it was in our earliest spiritual mortal life. That’s how it was in the earliest years of our culture’s evolution into the 20th and 21st-century society thriving out of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake today.
I might suggest one impact of the true-churchiness narrative we were fed like pablum with its claims of exclusivity, a perfect church peopled be imperfect members and the truest doctrines on earth. That impact is that members have a antiseptic perception of the organization, its doctrines, its heroes, its teachings and policies.
The mental resistance bases itself on an almost unconscious assumption that the Mormon Church teaches the purest doctrines, includes a priesthood authority that God gave it (including a power not unlike Obi Wan Kenobi’s “Force” with which miracles are wrought.
Yeah, yeah yeah. Our indignation has taken over our own common sense. We look at years of feeling guilty during the passing of the Sacrament because we were told that the true from of sacrament-participation is to think about the Savior and not so much to relate to remembering the Last Supper and what that might have felt like.
We look at years of agonizing over smoking and drinking coffee, having been spiritually inoculated against those things to the degree that we inflict upon ourselves our own sense of less-than in the worthiness sweepstakes because we know there are so many sitting in righteous reverence who are called to serve when we are not.
We agonized over tithing and the frequent testimonies that affirmed and/or promised nothing less than the tenets of the prosperity gospel if only we would place the required and requested amount into the outstretched hands of Church authority.
We agonized over Church callings as if they were prophetic opportunities to magnify ourselves in our own eyes as much as the eyes of our righteous peers.
We in fact came to believe in and live by the most harshest assumption that can be found in any performance-based religion: Only obedience makes one worthy to receive Divine blessings.
Which brings us back to the seriously flawed but inspired founder of the great global religion.
Joseph the Flawed gifted to his Saints some of the most powerful theological ideas to ever emerge out of the 19th century.
Regarding Joseph Smith, I think of this description as analogous:
“Another kind of sign-seekers are the people fascinated with psychic powers, believing that all genuine mystics must also be magicians who can foretell the future, read other people’s thoughts, heal diseases …
This can be done by giving the impression, allowing rumors to spread, and claiming nothing overtly. Just look knowing when funny coincidences happen, and you acquire a reputation for working miracles. Given the reputation, the actual miracles follow, because people believe in you.
When it doesn’t work you lament about their lack of faith … Your successes will be remembered and your failures forgotten because so many people hope against hope for a real wonder-working Master, and you will end up by believing your own hoax. ” – Alan Watts
The most honest confession I can make for myself is that I am a product of what Joseph Smith started two hundred years ago. By the time I was born, the rigid theology, doctrinal principles, procedures and ordinances were in place.
But none of those things are currently thriving in my most spiritual of inner sanctuaries. What are however are the habits of search, ponder and pray accompanied by the enculturation of the belief that God hears my prayers, listens to my thoughts and has given to me through my own personal revelatory experience a testimony of his constant presence in my life.
With that awareness I occasionally bear testimony of the Mormon Promises and have I have used them to obtain ANY knowledge on ANY subject regardless of whether or not the Church might define my questions as approved and without regard as to whether or not I was ever worthy to just ask the question.
That is how I perceived Joseph’s experience with God and the Spirit. His experience left him with the sure knowledge he could -in the eyes of scientific investigation – replicate his experience enough time to give him a confidence that waxed strong regarding revelation and inspiration.
An honest consideration of the charlatan reveals how fully confidence waxing strong in spiritual affairs permeates the membership and the overall approach to personal revelation.
Which leads me to a few paragraphs appropriate to the title of this article.
“I teach them good principles and let them govern themselves.” Joseph Said.
So how about let’s govern ourselves and let the dogmatic preaching of a Church with its hand out for cash build its own fortune?
I have come to realize that how I see the world spiritually is a direct consequence of the teaching and examples of the charlatan.
My soul is not some fragile, static and pre-existant jewel given me by God before I left to come to Earth and birth. The soul is alive, responds constantly to every stimulation, forever curious. It had a hand in forming my body and has a hand in maintaining my body and spirit in this life.
My soul thrives on subjective experience rather than the mere passage of time in some vague ever-rising eternal progression.
My soul has to work with the assets not only given but that which would develop into the mind’s ally most closely involved with physicality: my ego. My ego is not my enemy and cannot pretend to not know what my soul definitely knows.
The mind with the ego seated in the captain’s chair constitute the spiritual connection to the soul and eternity in one direction and the world and physical reality in the other.
I am then the manifestation of your own soul expressed mortally by the work of the ego. If my ego begins to take itself too seriously, it is up to the soul, who is the only presiding authority in my mortal arrangement, to take the ego to task, restore humility and move forward in faith.
In other words, I quote the Gnostic text in which Sophia, the Soul Spirit takes the self-important ego that thinks itself almighty to task.
“Opening his eyes he saw a vast quantity of matter without limit; and he became arrogant, saying, ‘It is I who am God, and there is none other apart from me.’
When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power, saying, ‘You are mistaken, Samael’ — which is, ‘god of the blind.'” (The Hypostasis of the Archons, p. 167, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited James M. Robinson).
Without the promptings from the mind of Joseph Smith – who spoke without any correlation of doctrines, performances and belief sets in mind – I would not have come to a place of my own revealed religion and spiritual practice.
If religious leadership leaves us confused and perhaps even doubting, I realize how well the process described from the mind of Joseph Smith works for me, and has going back to the commencement of my so-called apostasy.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must cask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a
stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. – Joseph Smith, D&C 9
There are no perfect prophets, no perfect general authorities and certainly there is not a perfect church. There is not a perfect culture. I never chose the culture, it chose me when I was born into it. To think otherwise and reject it would be in truth tearing off my own hide.
I do not need to do that. Neither do you.
Own the way you’ve come to see the world.
Own how much of it comes from your culture.
When a member feels some sense of risk of excommunication for having acted or even entertained thoughts believed to be offensive to God and the Church, excommunication hangs over the head like an executioner’s sword.
What is it we believe we risk when someone else, especially someone else who has an authoritative leadership calling, implies the risk of excommunication?
What does excommunication mean and how literally should we take it when another mortal threatens us with being cut off?
Read the following form of religious excommunication and ask yourself if the vindictive and mean spirited God of that particular Jewish church is the same God worshipped by another church that wields excommunication like an addiction : the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Would their God act and think in such a way?
Unspoken but inflicted – and not in practice a pretended “court of love.”
“having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Spinoza, they have e and after all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honorable hakhamim, they have decided, with their consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel…”
The “hakhamim,” namely the official rabbis of the community, with whose consent the resolution was made to excommunicate the “said Espinoza,” were familiar with thetraditional wording of the proclamations of excommunication and excerpts of these onventional formulations were incorporated in the announcement of Spinoza’s excommunication:
“By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein;
cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys (who mocked his baldness) and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law.
Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night;
cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up.
Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in.
The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man,
and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.
And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law.
But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.”
The proclamation of the excommunication concludes with the following famous lines of the actual warning:
“That no one should communicate with him neither in writing nor accord him any favor nor stay with him under the same roof nor within four cubits in his vicinity; nor shall he read any treatise composed or written by him.”
I place no credence on what the Jewish officials pronounced on Spinoza … but also none on whatever Church members place on the meaning and intent of excommunication other than the obvious (termination of membership.)
Nope! Not with the least degree of allowance!
Removing the guilt is an okay concept I suppose so long as one buys into the idea that sin summons guilt in the same way that a crime involves guiltiness.
In my reality and opinion I do not see God as in the crime-and-punishment business whether due to laws and procedures created by God or due to some nebulous notion of “justice” which demands a karma-like accounting of credits and debits.
For most within the sphere of Mormonism a thought involving excommunication is usually a thought involving the idea of having offended God or some rule of God that demands recompense.
The idea of a Church benevolently (by removing something called guilt) terminating membership and by extension the hope of eternal life is nothing more than a theological notion that has gained traction by tradition. It is in effect a disingenuous reasoning to justify a procedure intended most fully to assert authority and encourage conformity.
The bulk of Christian belief is based on theology. Theology, by the way, has always been and always will be human religious speculation, suspended disbelief and an imputation of human attitudes in the Divine Mind.
Seems that the best idea is to remove the notion that excommunication is a valid and needful piece of gospel repertoire. In doing what might also be discouraged is the excessive sober judgmental seriousness – the taking of one’s authoritative calling as a mandate to do whatever is necessary to defend God and The Kingdom.
Something else might be dissuaded, the temptation to use fear, shame and guilt as motivation toward desperate conformity.
Excommunication has little to do with any relationship to Jesus Christ and His faith- hope-and-charity business. That’s the business that teaches that we ought to love God and Neighbor as if they were one and the same …
which by the way is the single needful question a genuinely true and living church should ask members in a temple recommend interview.
I say to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
Bring your excommunicants back into the fold with open arms and no conditions. Make a truly grown up and loving expression of acceptance of the many forms of spiritual and religious devotion manifested by all genuine and believing Saints.
You will be more grandly and publicly accepted as a worthy institution.
The Twelve-Steppers have it down pat: “God don’t make trash.”
On mark-missing and being mistaken in what we say and do.
It is interesting how many of our human foibles – particularly when they are our own – tend to be more effectively dealt with as if we are correcting a missing of the mark.
Most Christians however are not taught that their mistakes are missing marks. Rather, sins are SINS; behavior that offends, disappoints or hurts God’s feelings. These notions are reflected in how we are exhorted to face up to our sins and sinfulness; to feel the cultural guilt, shame and sense of having offended a God who cannot tolerate sin with any degree of allowance.
Congregations are full of mark-missers, not sinners. Many have missed the mark big time. In the opinions of those who seem to specialize in detecting mark-missers and seek out indications of sin, mark-missers shoul be called to repentance.
Why? Because by theological notion they have offended a thin-skinned God who cannot tolerate you-know-what with any you-also-know-what. Trouble is that it’s hard to love with all one’s heart a low-tolerance-with-no-allowances kind of God. A God who cannot tolerate mark-missing to any degree is a God to be feared, not respected.
We know we are not expected to be perfectionists in this life. We know that perfectionists not only die young with high blood pressure, but also they have unreasonable expectations and make unreasonable demands on those around them.
Perfectionists tend to be highly intolerant of “flaw-ful-ness” and imperfection in others. Likewise, most perfectionists imagine themselves to be subject to the terror of not being tolerated with much degree of allowance by those upline in a hierarchy whom perfectionists view as powers that be.
Why would we need to believe in a Supremely Divine Perfectionist who has labeled His own children as inherently sinful; as too tragically flawed to turn out perfect?
… and who stubbornly and relentlessly insists that He (The Supreme Divine) is is unable to tolerate you-know-the-rest?
Sin has been incorrectly defined and then institutionalized for the most part as a wicked act, something that is in a nasty way an affront to God. Acceptance of the notion of sin suggests that the God of no- compassion is obsessed with morality as the basic concept by which Goodness is defined. The implication suggests that therefore we mere mortals should also obsess on sin.
So many among us accept the changed meaning and image of sin as something immoral which is then married to the image of a judgmental and punitive God.
It then follows that sin creates in our lives a sense of something connected with the more powerful word, “evil”.
It then becomes easy to accept the idea that the Divine Monarch Himself is offended – precisely because when we sin; because we commit evil acts.
One might conclude that when the phrase “we are all sinners” is expressed, the horrific “we are all evil” is just around the bend. Sinfulness viewed in that manner then literally relegates humanity to living in a state of criminal activity as viewed by God.
That seems to be the desired state needful to those who equate morality to theology; whose pastoral livings are based on teaching about the evil of sin and offering advice on how to clean it up.
Once we can conceive of God being offended, we cause God to no longer be God.
God should be much larger then merely being “offended.” An offended God has been reduced to a reflection if judgmental mortals ; as such is no longer really God or God-like.
It gives lie to any pronouncement of mercy. Jesus understood this and used the Prodigal Son to demonstrate it.
From the labels of sin and evil, the next logical step with sin is a concept of punishment, exclusion or discriminatory thinking in which the sinner somehow has failed while the rest are still acceptable to God.
The sinner now has a handicap that leaves him/her “less-than” until the other FORM-ula (as in form over substance) ingredient of repentance is accomplished.
Exclusionary thinking awakens discrimination at this point. Many believers almost unconsciously decide that since the sinner is now “less-than” what true believers consider themselves to be, many believers suddenly find themselves “uncomfortable” in the presence of sin and/or sinners.
Believers and non-believers tend to exclude by condemnation, by social avoidance, by shunning, by excommunication or by something worse. All of which is a false and non-scriptural path and reflects the spiritually violent thinking of the Prodigal Son’s older brother.
The arrogance of that act is reflected in Roman Catholic calls to Crusades and more horribly in the Inquisition. When we casually equate the word “sin” with “evil” we are never very far from looking like and participating in the evil acts of those Inquisition accusers who self-righteously assumed that they had a God-approved right to judge and punish.
Reformers such as Luther only put a Protestant spin on the traditional concepts of sin which came out of Roman Catholic dogma – concepts that remain reflected and camouflaged within the Bible today.
Protestant fundamentalists thrive on the strength of viewing the Bible as inerrant and absolute and portraying the terrible image of a punitive monarchical God. It was not Catholics who executed so-called heretics and witches in New England in the 1600’s. It was Protestants.
We members of a Christian society who casually evoke this altered meaning in our use of the word “sin” have habitualized a tendency to judge. We don’t have to be bigots to suffer from the illness of self-righteousness. All we have to be is of a mind that one of our spiritual “shoulds” is to discern not “sin” but whoever has “sinned”.
We allow ourselves to condemn the action and feel to thank God that we have not done what the “sinner” has done.
However we tend not to stop there. Many of us behave in ways that suggest that we personally feel more holy, more worthy and even more righteous than the sinner. We then deserve the blessings God bestows while sinners do not deserve those blessings.
“We don’t hate the sinner. We hate the sin, but we love the sinner.” And many of us lord it over the sinner.
There is a smugness and condescension in that statement that is almost impossible to hide. When preached to the choir, such a statement might receive applause. However, as a public declaration of attitude, it is something detrimental to an image of Christian compassion and understanding.
It is not the thinking of the Father of the Prodigal Son.
It is a thinking that lies at the heart of an attitude which accelerates from hating the sin to advocating punitive action against the sinner.
It is not “Go, and sin no more.”
Again, Jesus understood this. He made no attempt to modify the stoning of the woman caught in adultery into something less capital but still punitive. He simply said in effect,
“Go and sin no more. Try to stop missing the mark and you will stop harming yourself and others.”
We as a society have systems in place to apply punitive sanctions against those whose behavior crosses the line into criminal activity. Unless we honestly believe that “sin equals crime”, we have no justification for being invested in our morally judgment-and-punish business.
It is true that we have every right to make choices around who will be the friends with whom we can safely interact. Common sense dictates that we should do so. But if we truly think we can love the sinner while abhorring the sin, let us put to the test the idea of loving neighbors as we love self –even if we can only do so from afar.
If those who preach can get those mortal congregations who judge to stop doing so, they will do a great work in the social context truly honest and compassionate living.
It is not God who insists that we label ourselves and convince ourselves that we are sinners, sinful and essentially evil-natured. It is merely other human beings, equally flawed and imperfect as we but who seem to insist that it must be God’s will that we all walk around labeling ourselves as sinners; as sinful and therefore bordering on evil as our natural mortal state.
Our own human experience has taught us the value of mental and spiritual reinforcement and its impact on successfully eliciting change that is self-motivated and more likely to come to pass.
We already know this.
So does our Divine Mother and Father, who do not consider his creation as something evil.
The Twelve-Steppers have it down pat: “God don’t make trash.”
There are many who are quite content to live in the simplest arenas of belief – who feel no need for deeper spiritual and mystical experience and have no hunger to come any closer to God than they are right now.
There are others who are so secure and established in a fixed and unchanging spiritual mode that they truly are afraid of really exploring and testing what they really believe. In some cases people like this will be critical of explorers, questioners and testers who are on a quest to come to know God as God knows them – in a highly personal and spiritual context.
Traditional formulas full of shoulds and should-nots are like paved roads. There is much to see from the road, but you never know what meadows and mountains exist if you do not step off the road and make your own trail into a wilderness of opportunity.
Nowadays the internet is a melting pot of literally hundreds of “post-mormon” or “mormon dissent” or “ex-mormon” websites, blogs and discussion boards. After a while it seems like if you have been to one you have been to all of them. Even the most senior moderators on the most senior discussion boards will tell you that there is hardly anything, any issue, any circumstance or any thought, gripe, rant, disappointment or disillusionment that they haven’t already seen many times over.
What’s with the veritable plethora of angry, frustrated, disappointed or disillusioned human beings who do not seem to be able – in a wise, mature or logical way – to write off their connection to the LDS Church and simply get on with life?
I don’t have an answer.
What then might we do with our Mormon heritage and connections?
We are not responsible for the happiness of anyone else in our lives. They are responsible for their own happiness.
In that regard, just as we know we have no right or obligation to impose our beliefs on anyone else or make a relationship with anyone else conditional on our being pleased by them, they have no right or obligation in the reverse.
We owe our fellow saints our maturity. We have no obligation to reward spiritual and emotional immaturity. If relationships are that fragile and conditional, someone needs to be the adult. It is unreasonable and makes not sense to be in a relationship where one soul is responsible for the contentment of everyone else. If friends and family want a conditional relationship with you … are you not obligated to ask them to grow up?
Why must we keep doubts quiet when they arise? One of the admonishments I encountered frequently was that I should refrain from questioning the Church version of the Gospel because by questioning, I might be influencing others of less spiritual strength and causing them to lose their faith.
This never made sense to me. The idea that I have power in and of myself to overrule God’s influence in the life of someone else belittles God by suggesting I might overrule God’s will regarding someone else.
I came to understand that my own spiritual strength was something I had worked out with fear and trembling assisted by the Spirit. Spiritual strength is not loaned by someone else inside or outside any church.
The “true-churchiness” point of view; that way of seeing and believing – trusted as it was for years – broke down.
The church never had an adequate response to disillusionment it could not contain by exhortation to conformity, exhortation to more intense and frequent prayer on very limited subjects, and unspoken or blatantly declared accusations of doubt, sinfulness or even apostasy.
None of these approaches, used by the Church as tools of control, worked anymore.
Over the past twenty five years the Church has lost permanently any control over that contrived narration that encourages blind believing and unjustified fidelity to a cause the Church itself cannot prove exists. The pretended truths constantly crash against the wall of indisputable facts that reveal the pretenses as childish, immature and invalid.
There are tens of thousands of LDS Rip Van Winkles who have awakened from twenty or more years of blissful or not-so-blissful) slumber to discover that the reality that secured their lives when they fell asleep no longer exists.
Such reality was never real.
The theological and religious lullaby that worked so well in the past now comes across to awakened souls as not much more than a medley of childish adolescent ditties.
Such is the constancy of that hemorrhage of disillusioned believers that more than likely will continue to grow until the core of remaining church membership will barely facilitate Mormonism’s ongoing decline into the same mediocrity of traditional main-line religions that have little or no influence on the lives of its youngest adult generations.
We owe our fellow saints our maturity.
We have no obligation to reward spiritual and emotional immaturity.
If relationships are that fragile and conditional, someone needs to be the adult. It is unreasonable and makes no sense to be in a relationship where one soul is responsible for the contentment of everyone else.
I propose that what we have left in terms of churchiness is the very real fact of “It’s Okay.”
It’s possible to belong and be active … and not have the Celestial Kingdom as your objective.
It’s perfectly okay to go to church only when you feel like it
… only for social occasions
… only for supporting family or loved ones in a religious life event important to the family
… only to enjoy the sociality and friendship of the culture
It’s perfectly okay to go to church only when you feel like it
… to be a friend of the church
… yet keep it’s demands and requirements at arms length
… to accept no calling unless you feel like it
… and never fear the religious ill-will of the master and commander who supposedly leads the Church
It’s perfectly okay to go to church only when you feel like it
… and not go when you don’t feel like it
… to participate whenever you desire for your own reasons
… and have no intention or goal of arriving in the Celestial Kingdom.
It’s okay my friends.
If friends and family want a conditional relationship with you
… are we not obligated to pray with them
… pray for them
… pray that God will ask them to grow up?
… and leave the mechanics and verbiage of that to God?
If Humanism were not a philosophy of life, but a Church, what creed might it have?
Reform Mormonism teaches an approach to faith and life that is not and should not be an inheritance from any religion past or present.
Spirituality first and foremost must be positive, progressive, and liberal. If one insists on tradition as necessary in spiritual life, ought it not be a tradition of liberality in love and compassion?
Does it not seem that only a performance-based religion would hang itself on rigid traditions with inflexibility founding the idea that a traditional inflexible God is absolute rigid in his thoughts.
Does not Isaiah declare that God says “My thoughts are not your thoughts”? So what are our thoughts but our own divinely prompted thinking.
I can’t speak for the rigidity of a codependent god who constantly meddles in human life, but I can agree with the idea that eternal progression is not possible unless we think and act rationally. One principal element of such thinking is that our knowledge must expand and improve. Evolution and all that is implied is endless. Such is eternal progression in a nutshell.
Eternal progress requires that we learn as soon as possible that we are not the judges of or expected to condemn anyone. The codependent god may have talked in books and revelations about what and with whom he is pleased, but that’s in his supernatural corner, not ours.
Heaven and hell have no meaning unless one lives in thrall of that codependent god who does nothing but promise and threaten. Gnostic scripture supports the disputation of the codependent god whose principal shtick seems to be any manner of bullying.
The Demiurge looked at his surroundings, realized that he was alone, and declared himself “god”; Sophia acted quickly to punish this cosmic usurper, blinding and banishing him in one fell swoop:
“Opening his eyes he saw a vast quantity of Matter without limit; and he became arrogant, saying, “It is I who am God, and there is none other apart from me!”
When he said this, he sinned against the Entirety. And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power saying, “You are mistaken, Samael.”
And he said, “If any other thing exists before me, let it become visible to me!” And immediately Sophia stretched forth her finger and introduced Light into Matter; and she pursued it down to the region of Chaos. And she returned up to her light; once again Darkness returned to Matter.” – Hypostasis of the Archons
Heaven and Hell are the main chapters in fundamentalist theology. Without a codependent creator notions of original sin, atonement, redemption, performances leading to rewards and blessing and required ordinances are reduced to imaginary silliness.
Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. expresses fundamentalist thinking in this way,
Many of us are familiar with Miguel de Cervantes’ great literary masterpiece Don Quixote.
In it, retired gentleman Alonso Quijano moves to La Mancha and becomes so caught up in books of chivalry that his sense of reality becomes so distorted his identity transforms into the character of don Quixote.
He sees the world through filters of fantasy and adventure. Whatever reality presents, don Quixote redirects the story to fit his own expectations and beliefs.
By the end, our hero is defeated and dejected, chasing after an image that forever eludes him. Like don Quixote, we are constantly investing ourselves into the stories we want to believe. We create our own personas so that we are “somebody.”
When I was young, I took on various identities. I was Miguel Ruiz Jr., the Goth. Then I became Miguel the Intellectual, then Miguel the Bohemian, then Miguel the Artist, and so on. I gave myself rules the same way don Quixote created his rules—through a distorted perception of who I was. Other people would see their own truth and wonder what I was doing. – The Five Levels of Attachment
On putting away childish things:
Do we not deserve the right to accountability? If not then from the standpoint of being religious in the eyes of the judgmental god we sit in the very middle point of a spectrum. In one direction we cannot own our decisions, actions and their consequences and grow therefrom. In the other direction we cannot own our decisions, actions and our consequences without assigning part of the blame to Satan – the Adversary who interferes with our right to critical thinking by constantly throwing moral monkey wrenches into our equations.
Only an enlightened human being can live outside that boobytrap spectrum.
In that regard, Reform Mormon Rob Lauer asks,
What if “playing God” is actually a virtue?
Joseph Smith, the first Mormon, put it this way:
“….you have got to learn to be Gods yourselves…the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one.”
Joseph Smith revealed a new vision of God:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…That is the great secret….if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man [or woman] in form….for Adam [and Eve] were created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God.”
The good news of Reform Mormonism is that in a deeper and more profound sense than you’ve ever imagined, you are a child of God. Whoever you are, wherever you, whatever you have done in the past, whatever your situation may now be–you exist in the image and likeness of God.
It is of ultimate importance from a psychological perspective that we understand how every human being is free by nature. Such is the point and purpose of the idea of free will.
Joseph Smith declared openly what the Divine expects when search, ponder and pray lead to new perspectives and convictions.
“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
Again, Rob Lauer,
God expects you to think for yourself. God expects you to be curious and to ask questions–not live by blind faith. God expects you to act for yourself and take responsibility for yourself.
I am a cultural Mormon whose spiritual experiences have always been and remain unscripted.
As a young (19-year-old) Mormon missionary who was then and has always remained serious about what it means to live a spiritual life, I experienced what Mormons in general refer to as that first moment of testimony when I knew … I really knew … what was truth and what was not.
My life was ever changed from that moment. From that moment to this moment I have tried always to live by the Spirit as defined by my own experience in direct application of the Moroni Promises well-known to Mormons. I have always acknowledged and made a response to (sometimes in accordance with and very infrequently out of harmony with with) the promptings of the Spirit.
It seems like many who know me now would find my paragraph above as extremely hard to believe based on my lack of harmony with the religious basis of my culture, no matter that I am a product of the faith and courage of my society and try to reflect both in my life’s decisions to this day.
One of the hard lessons I’ve had to learn in my life is that neither I nor anyone else can control the messages that I or they intentionally or unconsciously declare – verbally or with body language and mannerisms. How my “messages” are received and internalized is not mine to govern, manage or even rework once revealed… nor are anyone else’s.”
“I have paid dearly for assuming otherwise in my own life … but once out of the bag … the cat will always quickly multiply itself and the one thing you can’t manage is a herd of cats.
Let me paraphrase what to me seems the unconscious thinking and assumptions that are expressed by words and actions of many with whom I am acquainted and with whom I have disagreed about what constitutes the definition of what it means to be religious.
Must our personal spirituality be approached and experienced as if there were only one way to experience God?
One of the many words used in attempts to describe approaches to religion in general (and Christianity in our particulars as Mormons) is that of fundamentalism. There are millions of religious believers who take a fundamentalist approach to their practice of religion. One can make the case that the term “fundamentalism”, applied in a general way, reflects the predominant way of thinking and perceiving life with a majority of Mormons.
Young Joseph did not invent these notions and assumptions. They were in place before he went to ask God about them. These assumptions were biblical to be sure. They were also driven by the long term Christian assumptions of the theologies created mostly by the Roman Church fathers during the rise of the Catholic Church. These were theological ideas; not verifiable nor otherwise proven absolutes about the reality of the cosmos in spiritual terms.
On testimony: “I testify that …”
As I grew to maturity I was taught as a young missionary and in leadership training that bearing of testimony amounted in fact to the equivalent of painting the person to whom a testimony is borne into a moral corner.
Put in another way, …
“If that of which I testified is not true, then the morally honest listener is obligated to discover that untruthfulness as a protection against being misled.”
Either way, the listener is forced from that moral corner to ask God whether or not the LDS gospel is true; whether or not the LDS gospel is something by which, now that the testimony has been borne, God will use as a basis of holding the hearer accountable for eternity.
It’s a neat way to ambush listeners and challenge them to do what you want them to do. However, it only works under one condition:
You and the listener must be mutually agreed on a spiritual cosmology and spirit world that is absolutely the way the you – testimony bearer – see it.
If the listener does not see things in the same way, there will be no awareness of a moral obligation to test the testifier’s assertion. It is not unlike a baker insisting he has the perfect recipe for brownies to someone who does not eat brownies. The obvious response to such assertions about baking or religion are the same:
“Yeah … So?”
I learned that I cannot warn or exhort anyone else about the consequences of ignoring or disbelieving my testimony unless that person has bought into a mentally-constructed reality identical to my own; in which there is genuine acceptance of the idea of and existence of “The Truth” in the form taught by Mormonism.
We must address our personal cosmic vision first and foremost. We need to understand the assumptions we have made as we internally constructed our definition of both reality and, if we are spiritually inclined, the spiritual world.
Let’s take a moment to ponder our spiritual cosmic vision.In a very powerful subconscious way, those who tend to a legalistic or performance-based belief system do so with an internal image of a reality where God “is”, where Jesus “is” and to many, where Satan “is” or “wants to rule.”
From the Judeo-Christian perspective which includes Mormonism, such in a way is a religion-driven imperial reality that serves as the context for how we combine our mortal practice of religion with our understanding of God and Jesus.Although for all or most Christians who accept that the realm of God truly exists, we do not all agree on what that existence means or how it impacts our lives.
For many Christians, the spirit world exists in another dimension and interacts with our own world in supernatural ways.This is consistent with a view of a purely supernatural, all-wise, all-knowing and almighty God who sometimes intervenes in the affairs of mortals in dramatic or not-so-dramatic ways. These believing Christians easily accept and live according to the idea of an invisible Jesus/God personage who is vitally invested in human life and directs forces of good against the other supernatural power and source of evil, Satan.
It’s an imperial kingdom of god.Other believing Christians do not see the supernatural Jesus/God as a personage who exists “somewhere else” and as someone outside the sphere of mortal perception and who communicates spiritually from a distance through the Holy Spirit.
Taking a cue from Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is within you,” they have a sense of God being omnipresent and an on-going constancy in which the Holy Spirit is an uninterrupted and steady influence toward good works and a desire to live, for example, the Golden Rule.
On the one hand there are people who talk about spiritual warfare, evoking images of the spirit world as some sort of zone of conflict in which Satan and God operate simultaneously for and against human life.On the other hand, others see Satan more as a conceptual part of their attempts to get a grasp on the idea of the existence of evil. Evil for them is not something we are tempted to do by a supernatural Satan. It is more an active part of life that serves as a kind of resistance or counter force against our intention or tendency to behave in an independent manner – acting in a ways that reflect the “goodness” way that Jesus wants us to be.
A similar controversy exists between biblical literalists and non-literalists regarding God as the “Boss of the Universe” who is commanding humans to behavior based purely on obedience and morality.Non-literalists find it logical to accept the idea of a non-judgmental God who fully encourages positive human behavior as a consequence of total agency.One version is imperial and the other a more accurate reflection of God giving agency to man without threats or promises of reprisals.
To literalists, Satan becomes the direct opposite and yet needful counter to the goodness and righteous-requiring Commander-God. Satan is a supernatural reality who tempts mortals to sins of of both commission and of omission.
To non-literalists Satan represents among other things the natural mortal tendency to self-focused, self-interested acts that disregard the good of anyone else. In this regard concepts of laziness, selfishness, arrogance and intolerance, for example, represent an awareness of evil and its impact on their actions.
Often one hears oft-repeated stereotypes among believers that non-believers get that way because of laziness (for example, not praying hard enough), selfishness-arrogance-intolerance (refusing to submit and in effect elevating one’s will above a God who requires subordination and unquestioned obedience); all of which are the “fault” of the doubter and never the fault of the society or its faithful.
Our internal imaginative interpretation of reality is always up, always running and the curtains of our internal stage are always pulled back as we “look and see.”For those such as I most of our internal religious constructs are inherited. They were taught to us in an absence of encouraged critical thinking.To the degree that we were taught by the example of Joseph Smith and the words of Brigham Young about his being fearful the members would not pray about what he preached, we were also taught the Moroni Promises method.
But as a tool in the LDS Church, we were also given the what-to-pray-about along with the what-the-answer-will-look-like. This in effect attempts to follow the prayer model. However, there’s often an attempt to intercept any urge to take the Promises literally when doing so might result in the asking of the “wrong” questions or asking in such a way as to endanger the institutionally defined testimony. (I have frequently sat in meetings and classes where a teacher or speaker emphasized the importance of “asking the right questions.”)
Such did not work for me. To me that meant that in my own honest and sincere way, coupled with the teaching from D&C Section nine about studying things out in one’s mind and feeling good and truthful or a stupor of thought, the Moroni Promises would always work.
That personal belief allowed me to soar above both the legalistic performance-based religious approach as well as the open-ended so-called cafeteria-pick-your-own-beliefs model.
The bottom line with the Moroni Promises as a way (method) of coming to know and commune with the Divine is that such a method is not subject to authorized approval or even worse, a basis of personal worthiness without which the Divine will not answer my prayers.In the very way the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith promises, answers to my prayers came without conditions.I learned and came to understand such things as a young, unsure and frightened brand new missionary. I later learned that Joseph had described what I thought I had invented for myself out of necessity back then:
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” – from the Church website: Teachings: Joseph Smith Chapter 10, Prayer and Personal Revelation
I can truthfully bear testimony to what I have written.The Moroni Promises work for all of us in that way.We are not obligated to use the Moroni Promises, will not be under condemnation for not doing so and the Lord will not withhold blessings for our failing to do so.