Search, ponder and pray: What I discerned from the teachings of Joseph Smith

 

Joseph peepstone hat and transcriber

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.
Own it!

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The Sacred Heretic: A process of eternal progression by exploration and learning.

Image result for tarot hermit card

Image courtesy of elliotoracle.com

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.