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!

Advertisements

On performance based religion: Assess your assumptions

Image result for fear god
What does it mean to live spiritually?

Religion proposes a performance-based life with the following operational formula:

Obedience + Worthiness constitutes Spirituality … which leads to –> Blessings

Most Churches encourage the belief that heaven is the destiny. Life in heaven is a reward toward which one directs a life of a having learned of a “proper” way to think and accumulate accomplishments. Performance-based religions, many with systematic theologies, doctrines and programs pattern this way of imagining god and god’s reality.

Although entirely lacking proof in any physical or spiritual form of such a realm a host of early American prophets, evangelists and circuit-riding preachers asserted performance-based spirituality. They did so in creatively imagined and described forms.

Christian fundamentalism takes this notion a few steps further. Most  believers easily and perhaps without much critical thought –  buy into religious legalism. It becomes almost second nature to accept the idea of an over-controlling detail-obsessed God who seems much after the pattern of a controlling parent or lover. Uncritically, as an act of faith, devotion and obedience many sincere believers buy without question into the notions such as

  •   humans are so imperfect that God created religion by which that Male Patriarch could – in a loving but domineering manner – thrust into our lives guidelines for living.
  •  Such guidelines almost casually become laws or, better said, doctrines “irrevocably decreed” which the children of said God are expected to follow.
  •  This God of guidelines demands strict adherence to such doctrines which in fact do nothing more than establish a notion that obedience is elevated at the expense of agency.
  •  The highest spiritual approval in life is nothing more than an experiential pat on the head for being an obedient child.

The implications of such internalized assumptions include an idea that the God and Father of Obedience created a world abundant with the fruits of creative activity, but then mandated performance and worthiness as prerequisites before creative activity could bear fruit.

Fundamentalism: An unnatural way of living.

On Prophesying, Seeing and Revelating

A performance based religion puts bans on what are perceived to be inappropriate things. These bans become “laws of the Church” which by implication become “Laws of God” which are viewed then as irrevocably decreed and upon which a worthiness-obsessed God gives blessings.

In a performance-based-religion, members are banned from inappropriate music, television, movies, books and other literature. Freedom of expression in art, music, and other forms of entertainment are seen as risks that may cause the Father to stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion certain food and drink products are banned and seen as the causes of risks that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion the Father requires strict adherence to dress and personal appearance codes the rejection of which creates a risk that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion scriptures become the means and tool that can be utilized to effectively stand in for a lack of contemporary legitimate revelation. The same God who started everything eons ago by speaking directly to his children doesn’t do that anymore.  Scripture becomes the weapon that confronts those who challenge would-be prophets.

In a performance-based-religion, the very Father of Obedience has become in fact a Father of Conformity. The Father of Conformity either refuses or is unwilling to justify or explain how such an  only-right-means-to-salvation system and circumstance is equally fair and just to every other human being on the planet.

In a performance-based-religion the Father of Conformity has authorized the use of emotional guilt, intimidation, thought control and coercion to keep members in line. He is also seen as justifying guilt-ridden sermons and lessons designed to push believers into submitting to the authority of the leadership without question or criticism. Failure to respect the leadership creates a risk that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion the Father of Conformity has authorized the use of the theory that people should spend long hours at the Church and do work in the Church in order to gain rewards in heaven. A bureaucracy has been created at all levels in order to engender, monitor and “lovingly” coerce this sort of working participation which then becomes the standard by which member spirituality is measured and recognized.

The same bureaucracy becomes then a powerful instrument for limiting criticism and dissention through emotional and spiritual abuse by perceived authority and endorsement by the Father of Conformity.

A process of establishing and enforcing man-made rules and doctrines creates mere man-made leadership.

The consequences are always harmful, stifling and soul-destructive.

Some who are driven away leave with emotional scars that cause depression, substance abuse and  – unfortunately – suicide, along with the very activities against which the religion relentlessly preached. One can make a case the some of those driven off are at least temporarily not prepared to deal with life and society in a manner that is free from long-internalized judgmental and narrow notions.

Rigid Church programming involves and in fact revolves around forms of guilt and coercion. Within the Church as well as among those driven off there is a danger of low self-esteem that causes essentially unreasonable reactions to the Church itself.

Repentance becomes much more than returning to God, it involves returning to the Church from which one has fled in desperation. This is not unlike a battered-wives syndrome where one consciously returns to a life at home with a mean and unrepentant drunk who will continue business as usual.

There is a genuine tragedy when one feels driven off from the clan or out of the tribe  because like an enormous and ominous dark tower, the Church rises in the background or even the actual center of the tribal village,  thrusting itself with impunity into the middle of family relationships to which it has no moral or God given right to interfere.

Members – unconsciously in many cases – are forced to choose between Church and family.

The Father of Conformity has said nothing about why this circumstance is a positive fruit by which that Father is known among the children of men. The either-or attitude may only be a perception of those driven off when the rest of the family remains inside the righteous but unseen walls of Church conformity, but the Church does little or nothing to address that very  family estrangement of which the Church and it’s self presentation is the principle cause.

Limited serenity that comes from separation from the direct and immediate sources of emotional pain still feels like something much better than the rigidly inflexible  cauldron of conformity whose principal legacy is misery.

One day perhaps enough souls will be driven out of that imagined reality to change a destructive mentally-imagined reality.
That which you imagine to be absolutely true … Believe … and then pretend to make it so

platos cave

If one honestly recognizes that assumptions are in fact only assumptions, then it makes  possible an entrance to the real world in which human beings are perceptibly masters of their own universe.

Divinity then is something other than an invisible monarch and by definition is not focused on our condemnation of anyone?

Could we not propose that just as our lives are the living myths of our own creation, our personal stories are made of all the stuff inside with which we show and tell others who we are?

Human spirituality in this century is no longer even the simplistic 19th century evangelizing fundamentalism of the American frontier.

Modern spirituality is best blended with common sense and ethics rather than organized religion driven by hundreds of years of theological guesswork that becomes more and more obviously flawed and inadequate.

What is called for is spirituality that functions as part of and not a background to a reality that is defined daily by human interaction, curiosity, discovery and challenge.

Old Time Religion does not work – principally because all those old assumptions that were never valid are now seriously impeding social movement toward social justice and genuine compassionate concern for each other.

It’s time to stop climbing and clamoring all over that medieval  statue of Jesus and other gods and instead looking in the direction in which Jesus was always pointing … the compassionate inner self whose kingdom has always thrived and pulsed within.

Assess your assumptions

It’s the internal story most of us were taught to carry around that may be flawed. What is within us in terms of how we define the world and its realities – spiritual, material, intellectual, sexual – all the inner thoughts that determine our outward performance come from a source that was never designed to be perfect.

“The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave and light, without shame or blame.” – Thomas Hobbes.

Our secret thoughts are the authors of our own story, our personal mythology from which we navigate our lives.

Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox have addressed this subject* with excellence and I have paraphrased their writing to discuss myth.

Our secret thoughts are where we have authorized our answers to the following questions:

Where did I come from?

Why is there evil in the world?

What happens to me when I die?

With whom do I belong?

How close should I be to others?

What are my obligations?

What is taboo and to be avoided?

Whom should I imitate?

Who are the heroes, villains, enemies and allies?

What are the stages along life’s way?

What is disease?

How can I be healed?

What should we do with bounty and surplus?

What is our relationship with nature and the animals?

Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Why Do We Feel The Way We Feel?

Are We Vitalized Or Bleeding Away Our Emotional Energy?

Our lives are living myths of our own creation. Our companion is our personal story, all the stuff inside we use tell us who we are and tell the world the same.

“Myth” is a word given too much work in how we share knowledge with one another. Many will not accept a myth because it is something built from nothing. Others say myth is illusion or a mistaken belief. When myth equates to the opposite of “fact”, how can we trust or use myth?

Myth is assumption.

Every definition of life is an assumption.

Every reasoning behind what we choose to do and how we choose to behave is based on assumption.

Defenders of religious creeds use the word “myth” to characterize religious beliefs that conflict with their own, saying

“Your, assumptions are not as valid as my assumptions. In fact, your assumptions are myth while my assumptions are truth.”

What do we deny if we refuse to recognize our own assumptions?

Image result for mythological god

Our personal mythical scenario is always on and is always running. Sam Keen has described myth as referring to

“an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community or culture.
The myths we carry around inside include unspoken consensus, the habitual way of seeing things, unquestioned assumptions, and our ‘automatic stance’.”

A society lives on its own unconscious conspiracy to consider a myth the truth, the way things really are. Do we belong to the majority who are literal without thinking; men and women who are not critical or reflective about the guiding “truths” – myths – of their own group?

As Keen implies,

” To a tourist in a strange land, an anthropologist studying a tribe, or a psychologist observing a patient, the myth is obvious. But to the person who lives within the mythic horizon, it is nearly invisible.”

I also like this quote from Carl Jung:

“I asked myself, ‘What is the myth you are living?’, and found that I did not know. So … I took it upon myself to get to know ‘my’ myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks … I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.” -C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung

How much are our individual lives shaped by inner scenarios based on assumptions we have been taught to accept as absolutely true?

Do we live an inner myth that reflects how we’ve been taught the world “is” rather than how we’ve discovered the world to “be”?

 

*I recommend YOUR MYTHIC JOURNEY, Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Story Telling, by Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox., copyright 1973, 1989 Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc